Bandits start playoffs looking for another NLL Finals run

BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) — Even though they won the playoff seed, the Bandits know the slate is wiped clean for everyone once the playoffs begin.

“Obviously the season matters, but the playoffs matter even more and the kind of finding, hitting that rhythm at the right time and getting those playoff games at home throughout the season is huge. We’ve earned that by playing as well as in the regular season, but it’s a new season,” Bandits forward Dhane Smith told News 4 Sports.

And that new season begins this Saturday against Albany, a team they’ve beaten twice to sweep the season series. But the stakes are so much higher this time around.

“It’s a little scary that the first round is one and done, but that being said, we have the home advantage and we’re looking forward to that,” Smith said.

“It’s amazing to be able to play in Buffalo, especially in the playoffs. You saw in our last game that we had 13-14,000 people there. It’s just an electric atmosphere. I grew up going to games in Buffalo and watching the playoffs and it’s almost like an unfair advantage. It’s great to be in Buffalo now and playing in Banditland, especially before the playoffs, because our team thrives on it,” Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc told News 4 Sports.

It’s win or go home to begin with as the first round is a single game elimination. Albany defeated New York 17-9 in the regular season finale to clinch a playoff berth. He also finished the year tied for most goals in the league with 47.

“I think we just have to put him in positions where we feel most comfortable with him shooting the ball. Obviously he’s going to break and he’s probably going to look really good and probably score some goals, but at the end of the day we want to limit his time and space,” Vinc explained.

“He’s an amazing player. He’s had a great season, I think he’s the best so far and it’s going to be hard to shut him down. But I think our defense is really looking forward to this challenge. because even the games we’ve had them in the last two games, he’s had a good number on us,” Smith said.

In Buffalo’s first meeting with Albany, Resetarits had two goals and three assists in the Bandits’ 13-8 home win. The second time around, Resetarits had four goals and two assists in Buffalo’s 12-11 overtime win at Albany.

“He has always played well against us and I think our defense will make a point of giving him a hard time. With these talented players like that, you’re not trying to shut them out, you’re just trying to slow them down and I think that’s what we’re going to try to do on Saturday,” Smith said.

“We can’t let him dictate the pace of the game. I think if we can put it in these tougher places, tougher routes and stuff like that, then hopefully we’ll be successful,” Vince pointed out.

While Albany is on the rise after winning three straight games, Buffalo is expected to finish as the league’s top team again, just like in 2019.

“It’s tough when everyone talks about how we were supposed to win everything this year and that underdog mentality that Albany is going to come in with. That being said, we just lost a game and they just won their match by a bit, so we can kind of go into it thinking we’re the underdogs as much as they can,” Smith said.

Smith also said he saw similarities to this year 2019 which also finished 14-4 and reached the NLL Finals, but there is also a big important difference.

“We are a little older now. That year we had a lot of rookies and we got to the final straight away and they were like, ‘Oh, is it that easy to get to the final?’ Where I’ve been in the league for nine, ten years and I’ve reached the final twice in that time and haven’t won a league yet. So those guys didn’t really realize how hard it is to come back to the finals. So I think we have more experience now and our general manager Steve Dietrich has done a great job bringing new pieces to the draft and free agency,” Smith said.

The Bandits are looking for their first championship since 2008 and came close in 2019 but lost to Calgary in the final. It was actually the last post-season game they played since the season was cut short in 2020 with the onset of the pandemic and last year there was no season with the uncertainties surrounding Covid. So losing in overtime to the Roughnecks in Game 2 stuck with those guys for a while.

“It kind of went with me through the Covid year. Obviously we had two or three years off and all you could see was “oh, Calgary is still the champion” and they kept replaying it and replaying it. Smith laughed.

“That being said, this season is a fresh start. We got to the point where we wanted to be and it’s the organization of a first knockout round and we have to focus game by game, but at the end of the day our end goal is to win a championship and that’s our first step this Saturday.

Even though the game didn’t matter for seeding purposes, the Bandits are coming off a 10-7 loss to Toronto in the regular season finale where the Rock used a 9 second half -2 to win. And Buffalo is using that loss as even more motivation.

“Losing that last game at home, I think that woke us up a bit and I think as we approach the playoffs, we’re a little hungrier,” Smith said.

“When you let a team take the lead or come back in there, they take over. I think lacrosse is a racing game, so what we have to take from that is that just because you’re at halftime doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. I think we really have to limit the runs of another team and be able to respond with our own run,” explained Vinc.

And while the Bandits must account for the Resetarits, the FireWolves have the daunting task of trying to slow Smith down. He finished the regular season with a league-high 135 points and 94 assists. Defensively, Vinc finished with the most saves and wins in the league while also finishing second in save percentage.

Those are two key elements not only this year, but they were also back in the Bandits’ last run to the Finals. And although they failed then, they are trying to learn from that experience and use it to overcome the obstacle this time around.

“I think we learned our lesson in 2019 that we can’t take anyone lightly and I think that’s what happened in the finals there. I think we’re older, we have matured now and I think we have what it takes,” Smith said.

The showdown between the Bandits and the FireWolves is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. this Saturday night.

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