ILIndoor.com: Tonight Determines the Season for Bandits

After an absolutely crazy, up and down season from the Bandits, they fought their way into the playoffs. Round one takes place tonight at the Air Canada Center against the Toronto Rock. Buffalo did not play up to their normal standards and saw Coach Darris Kilgour have his first losing season (7-9) behind the bench. Buffalo started out the season 2-0 with both wins coming against division opponents only to go on a big 5 game losing streak.

All aspects of the Bandits’ team saw all kinds of fluctuations. On offense, this team scored 17 goals one week and only mustered 8 the next. They seemed to struggle to go on offensive goal scoring runs all year long. They either just scored enough to stay in the game and came up short in the end or let the other team hang around close enough only to lose. Luke Wiles and John Tavares seemed to be the only consistent performers on offense, producing almost every night, even on nights when the offense struggled.

On defense, the team seemed to miss some of their slide assignments and were often too slow on rotations in Darris’ aggressive system. At times they shut down even some of the most potent offensive players, while others they gave up way too many good looks to every player.

In goal, Mike Thompson seemed pretty steady throughout the season. Buffalo then made the trade for Anthony Cosmo which, at first, didn’t look like a great move. Cosmo struggled early with what he’d later call confidence, and then seemed to find it to help the Bandits win 3 of their last 4 games. He also was able to keep this team afloat in goal once Thompson went down with a knee injury. I think we’ll see Cosmo start tonight in Toronto.

If the Bandits can win tonight, they will play Rochester next weekend at the Blue Cross Arena. But this game is more about just advancing in the playoffs. This game will determine what kind of team the Bandits really are.

Throughout the season it was often wondered “which Bandits team” might show up. On night when they played a full 60 minutes, or close to that, Buffalo seemed to win without a problem. It’s the times when Buffalo only seemed to play their game and systems for 1 or 2 quarters that they got in trouble.

Toronto will surely be ready for Buffalo tonight. They won the East Division and Coach Troy Cordingley will surely remind his team of what they might be up against tonight. The Rock seemed to find just what they needed in releasing Matt Roik and trading for Nick Rose.

Rose has been very consistent in net for the Rock, and Buffalo seemed to have trouble solving him in the last game Buffalo and Toronto played. Even going back to when Rose played for Boston, the Bandits seemed to have trouble scoring on him when he’d come in to relieve Cosmo.

The good news is, with that loss at the last meeting, the Bandits got the loss out of the way, and won’t have to try to beat Toronto 4 straight times. Coach Kilgour always explains how tough it is in this league to beat a team 3 times in a season. I’m sure he’d say beating a team 4 times in a season would be nearly impossible.

Buffalo heads up to Toronto tonight hoping for a different result than 2 years ago when they controlled almost the entire game only to lose 13-11 in the final minutes.

Tonight is the night where the real journey begins for these 2 teams. Buffalo is hoping to prove that their lackluster regular season won’t alter their goal for the Champion’s Cup. Toronto is looking for back to back titles. On this night, one team’s journey continues while the other’s will come to a disappointing end at the hands of a rival.

Come back to ILIndoor.com for all of the best coverage of the NLL playoffs, including my post-game materials from the locker room and conversations with players.

Steve, a Buffalo native, is an avid Buffalo Bandits and NLL supporter.

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