Bandits Advance to NLL Finals with Win over Rock
The Buffalo Bandits conquered the Toronto Rock in dramatic fashion in Game 2 of the East Conference Finals, propelling them to their 11th NLL Finals appearance.
The eighth all-time playoff meeting between the bitter rivals lived up to the hype as Toronto clawed its way back with its season on the line.
Down two goals with 1:23 remaining and an empty net, Toronto cut the deficit to one before forcing overtime right before the clock hit zero.
Or so they thought.
Amidst chaos during the 6-on-5 advantage, Challen Rogers sent an extra pass to Dan Craig right of the cage with 1.5 seconds left, and Craig appeared to bury the game-tying tally.
Rock fans at FirstOntario Centre erupted as the referee called a good goal on the floor, but video replay on the jumbotron showed that the ball snuck past goaltender Matt Vinc 0.2 seconds too late.
Following their initial reactions of shock and despair, the Bandits' bench stormed the field as the official uttered the words "no goal," sending Buffalo back to the championship for the first time since 2019.
Vinc was the Heavyweight Player of the Game with 42 saves for Buffalo while earning his fifth postseason victory, a new Bandits record.
Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith continued their hot streak against Toronto, carrying the load offensively for the Bandits when they needed it most. The duo had two goals each, but Byrne had a game-high six assists while Smith chipped in with four.
Throughout the two-game series, Byrne posted six goals and 13 assists, and Smith added five goals and 11 helpers.
Chris Cloutier (2+2) and Chase Fraser (2+0) scored all of their goals in the second half, while Connor Fields (1+1) and Kyle Buchanan (1+1) did their damage in the first.
Tom Schreiber (3+2) did all he could for Toronto, completing the hat trick with 46 seconds remaining and tying a team-high in points with five. Rob Hellyer also did his part attempting to will the Rock to victory, scoring two fourth-quarter goals and three assists.
Toronto goaltender Nick Rose had another great night in between the pipes, making 39 saves resulting in a .795 save percentage.
Both teams adopted more focus on the defensive end after a scoring onslaught in Game 1 of the series this past Sunday, where Buffalo prevailed 18-17 at KeyBank Center.
In response to 18 combined goals in the first half on May 15, Buffalo took a 3-2 lead heading into the break Saturday evening.
A young, more inexperienced Toronto team gave Buffalo three power-play opportunities in the third quarter after doing a great job staying out of the box prior. The Bandits made them pay, scoring 14 seconds into a holding call on Mitch de Snoo from Smith and Cloutier's strike 13 seconds into an illegal substitution infraction for Toronto.
The offenses exchanged three goal runs in the fourth quarter as Buffalo got its largest lead before Toronto shifted momentum in its favor to make it a one-goal game.
Toronto finished the game beating Buffalo in shots, 51-49, and 17-23 in faceoff opportunities, but a stingy Buffalo defense ensured a decisive Game 3 wasn't needed.
With another East Conference trophy added to the display case, Buffalo isn't satisfied until it claims its first championship since 2008. Buffalo will play the winner of the West Conference Final between San Diego and Colorado, which will be decided with a Game 3 next Saturday.
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