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NLL East Division Final: Buffalo vs. Toronto live-blog

Brett Bucktooth scores over Toronto backup Pat Campbell's shoulder in an early matchup -- photo by Dave Marino.

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Pre-game:  The number is two—the Buffalo Bandits are two wins from hoisting the NLL Champion’s Cup for the first time since 2008.  Standing in their way tonight, however, are northern rivals Toronto, a team that bullied a hot Rochester club last weekend.

Pre-game:  There are a ridiculous number of story-lines to follow tonight—Buffalo coach Darris Kilgour and Toronto head-man Troy Cordingley are close friends and former teammates, but the relationship suggests that this contest means more to each of them. 

Pre-game:  John Tavares, Bob Watson and Colin Doyle—legends for both clubs—are advancing in years.  Tavares, a physical marvel at 42, deflated Boston’s championship dreams with a back-breaking goal last weekend, just after the Blazers rattled off four straight to even the game. 

41 year old Rock goalie Bob Watson, who plans to retire at the end of this season, badly wants to conclude his career with a championship.  Doyle, the veteran cog and set-up man for a bunch of 20-somethings, tallied 6 points in Toronto’s round one win. 

:  Much louder tonight than last week’s disappointing turnout.  The 300s are still barren, but those in attendance are in bedlam.  I’ve always wondered what bedlam is like.

:  We’re getting word—albeit unconfirmed—that John Tavares won’t be suiting up tonight.  He’s listed as “active” on the game-sheet, but perhaps the calf has been giving him problems the entire week. 

Pre-game:  Tavares wasn’t announced in pre-game lineups.  This is pretty terrible news for Buffalo fans, to say the least.

:  Tavares exited the first round game with Buffalo leading 10-6 with 4:40 left.  The all-time NLL leading scorer returned—admittedly on “only one leg”—to stick home the winner.  Can the Bandits keep up without their stalwart?

15:00—We’re ready for face-off; Thorimbert and Hoar take their places in the circle with boisterous chants of “Let’s Go Bandits” resounding throughout HSBC Arena.

14:43—A balloon wriggles its way onto the field immediately.  Toronto has possession after claiming the loose ball off the face-off.  Shot clock violation on the first trip—great contests from the Buffalo defenders. 

13:59 —Kyle Clancy, a late un-scratch, nearly tallies the game’s first goal, but Bob Watson stands firm in his net.  Colin Doyle curls around a screen with three on the clock and throws the ball away.  2nd straight 30 second waste by the Rock.

13:02—Generating enough offense has been a concern for Buffalo the entire season—Tavares has bailed them out several times—he is the team’s leading scorer, after all.  Kelusky’s shot from distance hits defender Rob Marshall’s shoulder and caroms out of danger.  Still scoreless.

11:43—Aaron Pascas takes a beautiful feed in the front of Buffalo’s net, but Thompson’s body gets in the way—a sterling save.  The stop followed a punishing body-check by Chris Corbeil that planted a Rock forward. 

10:55—Garrett Billings sees his shot got lodged under Thompson’s body.

10:33—Phenomenal back-check by Stephen Hoar on Clay Hill after Kyle Ross turned the ball over in his own corner. 

Rob Marshall puts Toronto on the board first with an unassisted tally.  Marshall, one on two with Buffalo’s defense, placed a high shot over Big Mike’s shoulder.  1-0 Toronto.

8:53 —Mat McLeod sails a shot over the target after Colin Doyle picked him out with a cross-carpet pass.  The Rock dent the scoreboard first, and Buffalo’s offense, sans Tavares, looks listless.

8:53—The Rock, with their red, white and blue uniforms, don’t make it easy for the media to see their numbers from up in the press box.  Steve Priolo was penalized two minutes for illegal equipment—must not be wearing Reeboks.  Darris has to be giving the Bandit enforcer a death stare (and maybe a throat punch) from across the surface.

8:20 —Incredibly nice quick-stick goal on the power play by Toronto—Kasey Beirnes nipped inside of Chris White, took a pass from Garrett Billings and promptly deposited the shot past Thompson. 2-0 Rock.

7:19 —Steenhuis sits out this offensive possession—Thenhaus squanders a chance from a bad angle.  Over and back on the Rock sends the ball back to Buffalo.  Plenty of Kyle Clancy on the floor tonight, a player with great potential but a reluctance to be physical.

6:19 —Jeff Gilbert breaks out with Phil Sanderson on a counter-attack two on one, but the defenseman’s shot is too feeble—Big Mike isn’t trouble.  Buffalo’s offense looks atrocious, however, as Brenden Thenhaus’ entry pass inside is easily picked off.

5:403-0 Toronto now after Garrett Billings show patience inside—Manning found his teammate with his back to the crease.  Billings pivoted and blasted a shot high over Thompson’s left shoulder.  Spectacular finish. 

4:20—Watson swallows Roger Vyse’s shot from 25 feet—it was a bullet, but a bullet at the Toronto goalie’s chest.  Sounds violent, I know.

3:19—Jeff Gilbert pushes out on another breakaway again, and Thompson calmly kicks the shot away.  The defense is fighting hard, but the undermanned offense looks confused.

3:19—Players like Chad Culp and Brenden Thenhaus are even more significant tonight, and creating chances by themselves isn’t a true strength. 

3:44—“Look what I found” goal by Stephen Hoar after Scott Self failed to corral a loose ball in front of his own net.  Hoar simply picked up the ball and fired past Thompson. 4-0 Toronto, and things are not looking promising for the Bandits.  Kyle Ross started the break-out for Toronto by picking off a sloppy pass.

2:25—LeBlanc twists in on goal and tries a bouncer past Thompson—to no avail.  Clay Hill fired a shot on net—I’m not sure why he’s out there on the offensive end—maybe to set picks?  He’s certainly not a scoring threat.

—To make matters worse, Buffalo’s captain Chris White heads to the box for cross-checking.  Doyle and Billings are both stopped by Thompson’s chest protector—but a crease violation on the Bandits hands the ball back to Toronto.  Manning has a chance, but Mike sees that all the way.  Peppering shots on goal on this power play.

:18—Shots are 19-6 in advantage of the Rock.  Penalty on Toronto’s Garrett Billings for throwing his stick offsets White’s penalty.  4 on 4.

———————-End of First quarter, 4-0 Toronto———————

15:00 —Buffalo is getting shellacked.  Let’s see if the Bandettes can fire them up!  When White’s penalty expires 30 ticks into the second quarter, Buffalo will head on a power play for 1:13, desperately needing a goal.  The offense hasn’t been able to connect on passes yet tonight, while Toronto displayed a near-flawless quarter.

15:00—The Buffalo News’ Jerry Sullivan is in the press box tonight.  Could he be at fault for the slow start?  Just kidding.  But it’s possible.

15:00—Not a surprise, it’s the first time this year Buffalo has had a scoreless opening quarter.

14:34 —Stephan LeBlanc adds to the scoring party for the Rock, unleashing a screen-shot that Thompson never saw.  5-0 Rock.

13:27—Buffalo moves the ball a little better on the power play chance, but Kelusky stroked a low shot wide. 

12:48—The floodgates are opening now.  The Rock tack on a sixth goal after a deft Doyle pass from the right side to a cutting Rob Hellyer in front.  6-0 Toronto.

12:48—Hellyer’s goal chases Thompson—Angus Goodleaf now in goal for the Bandits.

12:12—Buffalo’s finally on the board from a Kyle Clancy bouncer!  The forward used a Mark Steenhuis screen to find space down the middle—Montour found him in front for the Bandits’ first goal.  6-1 Toronto.

11:35—Doyle is stuffed again by Angus, as he turned around his marker and whistled a thigh-high drive into Angus’ body.

11:15Roger Vyse pops one in as Buffalo starts to claw back.  Pretty individual effort from Roger, who pumpfaked three times before banking his shot off Watson’s body.  6-2 Toronto

10:58—Buffalo is storming back!  Chad Culp registers his first of the evening, barreling down the heart of the Rock defense, taking a pass from Kelusky, and burying his shot into the top right corner.  6-3 Rock now.

10:58 —The crowd is finally fired up.  Rob Marshall walks off gingerly, guided by the trainer.  “Let’s go Bandits” is deafening now.

10:25—Shot clock violation on Buffalo—good aggressive defense from Toronto on that possession.  Goodleaf foils Pascas in front, but it’s ruled Toronto ball.  Buffalo has reeled off three consecutive since Goodleaf entered the fray. 

9:29 —Crucial turnover by Darryl Gibson sets up Colin Doyle all alone in front of Buffalo’s net, and the veteran makes no mistake.  The statsheet reads “unassisted” but Gibson put that on a platter. 7-3 Toronto.

9:11 —10 second violation on Toronto, as the Rock are unable to advance the ball across midfield in time. 

9:11—On the last Rock goal, Gibson, in possession behind his own net, tried to throw a pass to Steve Priolo, who had his back turned to the passer.  Doyle alertly stepped in, caught the errant pass and beat a helpless Goodleaf.

8:59—Punishing check in the corner derails Mark Steenhuis, but Toronto is awarded a a two minute penalty for “checking from behind.”  Glen Bryan—to the box!  Power play, Buffalo.

8:13—Back to 7-4 now after Roger Vyse rifles home a power play goal from just inside the right face-off circle.  Corbeil scoops up a crucial loose ball shortly after—but it’s called over-and-back.

7:32—Buckets!  Kyle Clancy just abused Glen Bryan, backing him down, spinning off him, then whistling a low shot past Watson. 7-5 Toronto, and this is a game! 

6:42—Steenhuis’ best chance goes awry on a wild run towards goal.  Fine work by White and Harasym on a two on one, but Watson stuffs Harasym.  Thorimbert manufactures a breakaway of his own, but Watson is up to the challenge again.  The defense has ratcheted up the intensity!

5:59—Ian Llord trudges to the box for two minutes, however.  Untimely.

5:20—Buffalo’s offense takes up an entire shot clock on the penalty kill.  Solid effort from Tommy Montour.  Garrett Billings missed a chance and then took a spill on his way to the bench.  Very funny.  Steenhuis darted on a fastbreak the other way but couldn’t finish.  Too many men called on Toronto—4 on 4 for 40 seconds before a Buffalo PP.

4:38—Shots are 10 - 10 in the second quarter.  Angus Goodleaf has been exceptional—there’s been no panic, and he’s adjusted to the game quickly.  That’s the mark of an invaluable backup. 

4:23—A tale of two quarters—Tracey Kelusky juked an over-aggressive Jeff Gilbert before roofing a shot past Watson.  It’s 7-6 Toronto now, and that six goal deficit is nearly erased.

3:32—Last-ditch check by Chris Corbeil throws Kasey Beirnes off just enough to prevent a goal.  Montour and Priolo bust out on a 2 on 1, but Montour’s bouncer trickles just wide of the far post. 

2:25—Shot clock violation on Toronto.  Steenhuis is doubled hard in the left corner, and he eventually loses possession.  Sandy Chapman rings the pipe—Goodleaf lucked out on that one.  Steenhuis can’t finish another opportunity.  Another fine save on Beirnes by Angry Angus.

:44—Instead of slowing the pace down, Steve Priolo rushes to goal and is called for a crease violation.  Stephan Leblanc makes the Bandits pay, however, as his screened-shot dribbled past Goodleaf—the first “soft” one of the evening.  8-6 Toronto.

:13 —Textbook goal by Toronto after a timeout by Cordingley.  Blaine Manning hesitated before releasing a shot, and Stephan Leblanc caught his attention at the back post—Manning whipped a pass that Leblanc finished with quick stick.  9-6 Rock after great execution.

:10—Tempers flare, as Scott Self and Patrick Merrill are exchanging words that do not appear friendly.  Buffalo calls timeout and will pull its goalie for the final chance of the half.

:04—Vyse’s howler from distance is parried away at the last second by Bob Watson, who was screened initially.

———————Halftime, Toronto 9-6———————-

Halftime—According to NLL.com’s Jeff Baker, the Bandits are 0-4 when trailing at the half this year.  When leading at the break, the Rock are 9-1.

Halftime—Leblanc’s two straight goals to close the half loom large—Buffalo had resiliently cut the deficit to one before Leblanc beat Goodleaf with a screened shot.  The Rock won the face-off, called a timeout, and Troy Cordingley’s designed-play was perfectly run by Manning and Leblanc. 

Halftime—Toronto won 10 of 17 face-offs in the first half—Jay Thorimbert is only 4-12 in the circle.  The Bandits definitely miss leading face-off man Brandon Francis (suspended three games for in-bench brawl) tonight. 

Halftime—New Bandettes outfit!  It must be the playoffs.

Halftime —Does Darris Kilgour stay with Goodleaf for the second half, or will he re-insert Mike Thompson again?  I’d expect to see Goodleaf, but Kilgour has a history of returning to his starter if the game becomes close again. 

14:50—Ten seconds into the second half, Phil Sanderson squirts out of a scrum, takes a pass from Jeff Gilbert, and sends a bouncer past Goodleaf.  10-6 Toronto.

14:07—Toronto is clearly the better team out of the gate—Garrett Billings uses his defender as a screen, then hums a shot over Goodleaf’s left shoulder.  11-6 Toronto.

—Nice stick check by Jeff Gilbert pries the ball from Steenhuis.  Thenhaus and Clancy fail to connect on a back post pass.  Billings narrowly misses an opportunity.

—Toronto is awarded a dubious extra shot clock—it didn’t look like Goodleaf was anywhere near getting a piece of the ball.

10:12—An unexpected source of scoring brings Buffalo back within four!  Defender Clay Hill snaps a Brett Bucktooth pass by a surprised Watson.  11-7 Rock.

9:28—Billings sends two scorchers wide of target—but they clanged a long way off the back boards, a testament to the power of his shot.

9:28—There’s a fan holding a Curious George blow-up doll in the stands.  Worrisome.

9:28—The breakdown of Buffalo fans to Toronto supporters is more lopsided in Buffalo’s favor than I expected.  The Rock boast a pretty dedicated fan base, but the ratio is probably 75-25 of those clad in orange and black.  Roger Vyse trots to the penalty box for two minutes, and Phil Sanderson exits as well for roughing.

8:03—The Bandit offense can only muster a weak Kyle Clancy shot that Watson could have stopped with his eyes closed.  I’m not sure why Clay Hill continues to see time on the offensive end, as another errant pass gave the ball back to the visitors.

7:19—Hill leaves the floor with an injury. 

6:46 —The Rock extend their lead to five again, as Aaron Pascas slips a shot past Goodleaf after an other-worldly no-look Colin Doyle pass.  The challenge flag flies out of Darris Kilgour’s palm, however, and the referees will take a second look.

6:46—No goal.  Pascas’ foot was deemed to be in the crease.  Still—sick pass by Colin Doyle.  The score remains 11-7 Rock.

6:07—Roger Vyse screams a shot into Watson’s body (band name), as Jeff Gilbert stumbles over his ‘keeper.  Manning clanks a shot off the post.  Wow, the Rock share the ball tremendously.  Kyle Clancy takes his eye off the ball, and there’s a timeout on the floor. 

4:45—Shots are 42-26 in favor of the Rock.  Toronto can find a clear look basically whenever it wants—the team’s passing is unrivaled in the NLL. 

4:07—Tracey Kelusky wins a loose ball behind the net and lofts a pass to Clay Hill—uncovered in front—but Hill’s low drive ricochets off the pipe.  Thorimbert breaks out in transition—scooting down the center of the floor, but Watson gets a piece of his shot. 

3:19—Jarring check by Sandy Chapman wins the ball back to Toronto.  Good work on the fore-check by Steenhuis.

2:04 —Steenhuis’ bouncer goes wide—the curly-locked forward fights valiantly to get his own rebound, however—and his second opportunity hits the post.  Several of Buffalo’s shots in the 3rd quarter have skipped inches wide of the far post.

1:05—Rick Jeanneret would have freaked out on Goodleaf’s last save if he was calling the game—Angus flatly denied Aaron Pascas mono-y-mono. 

—Mark Steenhuis splits two defenders and draws a holding penalty on Cam Woods.  The Bandits dearly need a goal on this power play before the end of the third.  There’s no momentum right now. 

:05—A Buffalo shot drifts wide again. 

——————End of Third Quarter, 11-7 Rock—————

15:00—The fourth quarter represents the last hope for Buffalo’s season.  How early will Darris Kilgour go 6 on 5, pulling Goodleaf out of net like Boston did with Cosmo last week with 4:45 left? 

14:19—Shorthanded goal on the counterattack by Garrett Billings after an unselfish pass by Kyle Ross.  Buffalo’s lone defender back pinched on Ross, who found Billings alongside side him for an easy goal.  12-7 Toronto.

13:04 —Another shot whistles wide.  Kelusky and Thenhaus haven’t been sharp tonight from the perimeter or in close.  There definitely is a contingent of Toronto fans here.  The Rock are content to exhaust some of the shot clock with a five goal lead.  A dangerous Goodleaf pass is secured barely by Chris White.

11:57—Fine save by Watson on Brett Bucktooth, another player who hasn’t been able to find a rhythm. 

—The Rock win another loose ball, earning another shot clock.  The Buffalo defense has struggled to limit their opponents to one shot per possession tonight. 

10:48King Clancy finally breaks Buffalo’s scoreless drought—he fooled Watson, who was cheating back post, with a sharp near post drive.  12-8 Rock. 

—Blaine Manning rattles the right post before Rob Hellyer is stuffed by Angus Goodleaf. 

9:46—Power play chance for Buffalo after Kasey Beirnes is guilty of breaking the NLL laws.  The Bandits trail by four and, even though they’re not out of it yet, there’s a sense of desperation.

9:24 —Steenhuis blasts a shot over the top of goal—Kelusky is on top of the rebound, and his pump-fake sends Watson to the turf, but Tracey can’t hit the gaping net.  Bob Watson is being attended to—looks like he’s simply adjusting his equipment.  1:31 remains on the power play. 

8:51 —There’s hope for the Bandits— Roger Vyse sent a wicked side-winder past Bob Watson, who never had a chance.  Steenhuis and Kelusky assisted the power play goal.  Thorimbert wins the face-off.  12-9 Rock.

7:52—Stephan Leblanc was coldly stoned by Angus Goodleaf—that save preserved the momentum—it would have broken the Bandits’ backs if Angus didn’t stand tall there.  Mark Steenhuis shoots over the net again.  His horrid shooting year continues.

6:43—Toronto’s lead is down to 2!  Tommy Montour exploded out on the break again—after a Chris Corbeil gem of a defensive play—and Montour picked out Chad Culp for a back-post goal. 12-10 Toronto.

5:59 —Leblanc sends a “gimme” wide.  Buffalo lucked out there. 

5:10—Tension mounts—I’m shaking with caffeine-induced work stress.  I can’t fathom how Angus Goodleaf feels, aside from sweaty.

4:35 —Toronto is starting to unravel—Chad Culp screened two defenders, and Kyle Clancy capped his hat trick with a screened shot. 12-11 Rock.  Bandit ball off the face-off!

3:39 —Protecting a lead is never easy in the NLL.  A blind over-the-shoulder shot by Blaine Manning sails dangerously wide.  Buffalo ball in Steenhuis’ stick.  Mark drives hard down the left side but sees his shot glance off the crossbar—centimeters away from a tie.

2:16 —Impeccable kick save by Watson on Thenhaus.  Bandits dominating possession now.  Colin Doyle gallops down the floor on a breakaway, but he can’t finish a clear-cut chance that nearly slipped through Goodleaf’s five-hole.

:48—Buffalo ball with 48 seconds left—Kilgour uses his timeout, and Goodleaf leaves the goal empty for the extra attacker.  6 on 5 for the Bandits as they try to tie the game; it’s 12-11 Toronto, and the Bandits have notched three consecutive goals. 

:48—12,184 is the attendance, and they’re all on their feet, urging the Bandits on for the tying goal.

:48 -- “Let’s go Bandits” reverberates around the arena again.  It’s noisy in here.

:29 —The officials are boo’ed loudly by the Bandits supporters—Chad Culp was laid out along the far boards—no call.  Clancy takes his place in the lineup.  The boos continue to cascade down on the zebras.

:14 —Giant save by Watson on Bucktooth, who was free to the left of goal for a split second, but the Rock goalie crouched quickly and squashed the ball—Rock possession with 14 seconds on the clock.

:01 —The outlet pass sails long, wasting precious seconds.  Buffalo recovers the ball with 1.2 seconds left—time for a desperation heave.  Possession will be handed out deep in the Bandit end. 

:01—Vyse’s 80 foot shot hits a leg, and the Bandits’ season ends.

—————Final, 12-11 Toronto—————

Final —Rock players mob their goalie Watson, and Toronto has a chance for revenge after losing in last year’s Champion’s Cup Finals.

TAGGED: buffalo bandits, john tavares, nll east division finals, nll playoffs, toronto rock

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