By Joe Ray – Bandits.com
TORONTO, ON – While the Buffalo Bandits are still locked in to a playoff spot, the team still has a number of things to improve upon. Buffalo put together a dominant game in stretches, but ended up losing to the Toronto Rock on Saturday by a final score of 13-9 at Air Canada Centre.
Rob Hellyer led the Toronto scorers with a goal and five assists in the game. Kasey Beirnes (2+3) and Kevin Ross (3+2) each added five points, and Colin Doyle and Stephan Leblanc each had four points.
For the Bandits, Mark Steenhuis and Ryan Benesch were the top scorers with a goal and three assists each. John Tavares added two goals and two assists in the loss.
"I didn't think we played that bad, it was a good game both ways," Tavares said. "I thought they buried their opportunities in transition and on the power play. We hung around and then kind of lost in the last couple of minutes there."
Toronto's defense stymied Buffalo's transition game, which has been a strong suit for the team all season. The offense has struggled lately for the Bandits, who have now lost six games in a row.
"Offensively, we have a plan and there's shifts where we're brilliant and we move the ball well … and then we have shifts when we're making bad passes and missing passes and things like that," Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said. "I know that we don't purposely go out to lose. We're in a nasty spot right now, and it's not good, but having said that we have time to fix this. We have time to look deep within ourselves and that's what we need to do."
In a year when many milestones have been set by Bandits players, Anthony Cosmo earned a milestone of his own. Cosmo broke Matt Vinc's NLL record for most saves by a goaltender in a single season. With 36 saves against Toronto, Cosmo now sits at 681 saves on the season, and still has two games remaining to increase the record.
While the record would certainly be enjoyed more in a win, Cosmo took the recognition in stride and gave the credit to the entire defensive unit.
"It's bittersweet. Any time you break a record, it's exciting," Cosmo said. "I credit the guys in front of me, my defense. They do a great job, the quality of shots I see quite often aren't that great, and so that kind of pads my stats. At the same time, this is an accomplishment that's just not mine but our entire team's."
"He's the best goalie in the league, I don't care what anybody says," Cordingley added. "He makes saves, he keeps us in games when we need big saves. He's the best goalie in the game."
Toronto opened the scoring two minutes into the game with a low shot from Rob Hellyer, but Mitch Jones responded for the Bandits with a goal assisted by Aaron Wilson and Dhane Smith.
Over the last seven minutes of the first quarter, Toronto dominated the majority of the play. Beirnes scored unassisted at the 7:45 mark of the first, and then he converted again three minutes later off a pretty pass from Doyle.
Ryan Benesch was able to bring Buffalo back within one, but the Rock power play took over for the last two minutes of the first quarter. Leblanc scored his first goal of the game unassisted with Buffalo's Rory Smith in the box for holding.
The two teams broke out into a fight with about a minute to play after Steve Priolo knocked a Toronto player into the Buffalo bench, resulting in numerous offsetting penalties for Priolo and Rob Marshall. Steenhuis was called for cross-checking almost immediately after play resumed, and Leblanc scored again with 18 seconds left in the quarter.
Down 5-2 heading into the second quarter, the Bandits needed some instant offense to get back in the game. While the offense could have been more crisp, there were certainly a number of positives to draw upon.
"There were some errant passes throughout the game," Tavares added. "You realize the errant passes more when you lose than when you win. The offense was pretty good, we had three or four situations where we overthrew the ball or weren't expecting the pass or were forcing it."
Buffalo was able to erase the Toronto lead quickly. John Tavares scored on a power-play goal at the 1:23 mark, and Aaron Wilson got on the board just 30 seconds later converting on a two-on-one with Ryan Benesch.
Shawn Williams tied the game at five off a great pass from Mark Steenhuis, and the Bandits were right back in the game. However, Kevin Ross was able to give Toronto a 6-5 lead at the 6:29 mark that would hold until halftime.
The Rock controlled the flow of the game out of the half, and brought their lead back to three goals quickly. Leblanc cashed in for his third power-play goal of the game after a Rory Smith penalty, and Ross added to the lead 51 seconds later on a goal assisted by Doyle and Hellyer.
Steenhuis was able to get Buffalo their first goal of the second half more than eight minutes in, but the Rock was able to reestablish the lead as Damon Edwards drove through the Buffalo defense for a short-handed goal.
The Buffalo transition game was lacking throughout the night, but a Dhane Smith end-to-end rush turned into a goal that kept Buffalo within two heading into the fourth quarter.
With the regular season winding down, the Bandits have two more games to rediscover the form of winning lacrosse that gave them an 8-2 record before the current losing skid.
"It is about focusing and getting back to Bandit lacrosse," Cosmo said. "We played well tonight, I thought we played a little down sometimes … this team, we've just gotta be playing smarter. I think the effort's there, the passion's there, things just have to change for us and I think [they] will."
The Bandits' road schedule concludes with a trip to Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night, as the Bandits take on the Rochester Knighthawks at 7:30 p.m. The regular season finale for the Bandits will be at First Niagara Center against the Knighthawks on April 26 at 7:30 p.m.