“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk
Lax Philly – A Division of Edge of Philly Sports Network
The Toronto Rock traveled to Key Bank Arena to take on the Buffalo Bandits in Game 1 of the East Division Finals Sunday evening. The Rock won a thrilling overtime game over Halifax in the first round of the playoffs last weekend. Conversely, the top-seeded Bandits outlasted Albany in a defensive battle. This game literally went down to the wire, as Buffalo escaped with an 18-17 victory that gives them a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
Hope You Took The “Over”…
The series was billed as featuring a hotly-anticipated matchup between two Goaltender of the Year candidates in Buffalo’s Matt Vinc and Toronto’s Nick Rose. Neither team’s offense seemed to care, as they combined for 18 goals in the first half. Josh Byrne opened the scoring for Buffalo just 33 seconds in. Rob Hellyer (0:57) responded for Toronto, and the slugfest was on. Ian MacKay restored the Bandits lead at 1:56, only for Zach Manns to equalize at 2:24.
The Bandits then went on a three-goal run, with Connor Fields (6:25), Steve Priolo (6:57) and Dhane Smith (10:56) making it 5-2. Justin Scott, placed on the active roster earlier in the day, scored his first playoff goal at 13:46 to stop Buffalo’s run and ignite a 5-goal run for Toronto into the second quarter. Manns (1:14 second quarter), two from Tom Schreiber (4:05; 5:32), and Manns with a hat-trick marker (6:32) turned a three-goal deficit into a two-goal lead for the Rock.
The Bandits responded with a 5-goal run of their own. Chase Fraser (8:36), Smith’s second (9:29), Fraser again (12:06), and two from Chris Cloutier (12:32; 13:05) restored Buffalo’s three goal lead. Challen Rogers scored with two seconds remaining in the half to make it 10-8 going into halftime.
Run, Run, Run
Once again, Byrne would strike at the 33 second mark, scoring his second. Cloutier (5:18) followed with his hat trick goal to extend Buffalo’s lead to 12-8. However, Rock head coach Matt Sawyer would throw a challenge flag on Cloutier’s goal. The result was a rather lengthy review that provided inconclusive evidence to overturn the call, but also halted the Bandits’ momentum. The Rock capitalized on the delay by starting a six-goal run of their own into the fourth quarter.
Dan Craig (7:08), Manns’ fourth (7:36), Rogers (11:14), and Craig again (13:28) tied the game at 12 heading into the final frame. Brandon Slade (1:04) and Rogers’s hat trick goal (2:38) early in the fourth quarter gave Toronto a two-goal lead. The Bandits would re-energize the crowd and their lead with another 5-goal run over the next five minutes. Kyle Buchanan (3:34), Byrne’s third and fourth (4:41; 5:30), Tehoka Nanticoke (6:19), and a dunk from Connor Fields (7:13) made it 17-14 Buffalo.
Toronto would keep the nail-biting atmosphere in place, with Hellyer’s second (9:37) and Scott’s second (12:11) making it a one-goal game. Smith would notch his hat trick at 13:04, before Schreiber’s hat trick goal made it 18-17 with just 11 seconds left on the clock. In an interesting move, Buffalo sent out Nick Weiss instead of Max Adler to face TD Ierlan (27 of 38) on the ensuing faceoff. Ierlan easily won the draw (the only draw Weiss took all evening) and got the ball to Hellyer, whose last-second shot got past Vinc but not the post. The ball ricocheted to Craig on the edge of the crease with an open net in front of him, but the ball popped out of his stick as he attempted a quick-stick finish with less than 3 seconds remaining, and the Bandits avoided overtime.
3 Stars of the Game
- 1st Star: Josh Byrne (4g, 7a)
- 2nd Star: Dhane Smith (3g, 7a)
- 3rd Star: Tom Schreiber (3g, 5a)
Other Stats of Note
- Power Play: TOR 0 of 1; BUF 0 of 0
- Manns (TOR): 1g, 4a; Hellyer (TOR): 2g, 3a; Scott (TOR): 2g, 3a
- Nick Rose (TOR): 33 saves; Matt Vinc (BUF): 41 saves
- The Rock had an astounding 103 loose balls for the game; Mitch de Snoo led all players with 16
Game 2 of the series will be Saturday, May 21 at 7:00 pm at First Ontario Centre in Hamilton
“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk was formally introduced to box lacrosse when he attended a New England Black Wolves game on a whim in 2016. Instantly hooked, he has since become an avid follower of the National Lacrosse League. Following the postponement of the 2019-2020 NLL season, he was offered the chance to share his wealth of statistical knowledge and unique insights with the lacrosse community at large. He cheerfully accepted, and currently serves as Edge of Philly’s correspondent for both the Albany FireWolves and New York Riptide.