Torrid first half propels Bandits past Wings
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • April 08, 2012 @ 7:49am
For national TV viewers expecting a back-and-forth, nail-biting affair between Buffalo and Philadelphia, the Bandits’ 17-7 drubbing of the Wings more than likely came as a disappointment. For Bandits’ fans desperate for a lopsided win, Saturday night was pure ecstasy for 15,060 First Niagara Center spectators.
Mark Steenhuis, John Tavares, Luke Wiles and Mat Giles all scored at least three goals apiece, and goalie Anthony Cosmo turned in his sharpest performance with the Bandits, stopping 46 of 53 shots on frame. Buffalo improves to 5-8, while Philadelphia’s rough weekend evens the Wings’ record at 7-7.
“Discipline in all areas [was better]—we still took a couple bad penalties, but we didn’t have a whole bunch of them,” head coach Darris Kilgour explained, comparing Saturday’s effort to the team’s lack of composure last week against Toronto. “We played really smart on offense, controlled the game, and on defense we were a lot smarter in how we attacked them and how we controlled where the ball went.”
A five-minute major penalty on Buffalo’s Tom Montour and a minor on Billy Dee Smith in the game’s first three minutes had Kilgour muttering in anger early, but the home team matched an exhausted Wings power play with a Luke Wiles shorthanded goal to knot the game 1-1 after penalties expired.
While Wiles made no mistake with his finish, Mark Steenhuis played a significant role in the goal. Defending tightly on the perimeter, the floppy-haired #9 blocked a shot with his chest, then collected a loose ball and sped down the floor. Sprinting off the bench, Wiles tore down the left side, caught the short feed from Steenhuis and buried a shot through the wickets of Wings’ starter Brandon Miller. With the surge of momentum from the shorthanded goal and penalty kills, Kilgour’s club rattled off four goals—including two more by Wiles—in a span of 1:43 to break the Wings’ spirit.
“It’s funny how a penalty kill energizes a team, it’s funny how a big shorthanded goal energizes a team,” Kilgour admitted after the game. “Even on this team, even a smart simple play, a smart lacrosse play, energizes a team.”
One night after falling 13-9 to Minnesota at the Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia simply didn’t have the energy to respond to Buffalo’s runs, and Miller (conceded 12 goals on 28 shots) and backup Steve Fryer (five on 17 shots) looked listless between the pipes. Each goalie was pulled from the game twice, and neither found a rhythm regardless of the shakeups.
At the other end, though, Cosmo was stellar, showcasing some of the skills that prompted Kilgour to trade two future first round picks for his services. He did well to cut down the angles on shooters by playing off his line, especially against Philly’s Brodie Merrill, who appeared to be the lone visitor with any aggression and assertiveness. The NLL All-Star transition player did muster a hat trick, but Cosmo stood tall on several of his seven saves against Merrill, particularly late in the first half.
“I’ve been sticking with my plan, working hard, but sometimes when you’re a goaltender you don’t have that confidence—the ball squeaks through,” Cosmo explained. “The first half, I thought there was one or two I thought I could have had, but the second half felt really great, and the defense played awesome for me.” Cosmo conceded only one goal in the game’s final 35:33.
“We played defense in front of him,” Kilgour said. “That’s the first good effort we had in front of Anthony all year, and that’s exactly what we expected to get out of him. I really have confidence in both goalies as long as we play defense in front of them—I feel we have two of the best goalies in the league.”
Buffalo travels to Edmonton next Saturday to tussle against the 4-8 Rush, one of the team’s that the Bandits are jockeying with to avoid missing the playoffs. The Rush stand a half-game back of Buffalo now, while the Washington Stealth are a full game behind the Bandits.
With their loss to Calgary Friday, the Rochester Knighthawks are now even with the Bandits at 5-8 as well. There’s a cluster at the bottom of the playoff picture, meaning that Buffalo can’t afford any slip-ups in the remaining contests against the Rush, Knighthawks and Stealth.
— Veteran forward Mat Giles collected his 500th career point on a pretty goal shortly after halftime. After corralling a pass from John Tavares in front of the Wings’ net, Giles was knocked on his keister by Max Seibald, but still managed to fling a low shot through the legs of Brandon Miller for the milestone point.
— Defender Mike McNamara was recalled from the practice squad and made his NLL debut, collecting two loose balls and earning a five-minute major penalty for a high hit on Philly star Dan Dawson. Kilgour said after the game that the league would look closely at the play, but that McNamara should escape without too heavy a punishment because the check started low.