May 12, 2014

Despite Wins, Calgary and Buffalo Remain NLL Underdogs

by Neil Stevens | | Twitter | Stevens Archive

John Tavares and the Bandits rallied for an improbable OT win over the two-time defending champion Knighthawks in game one of the East finals. (John Strohsacker/

The opening games of the NLL division finals produced a stunning upset in Buffalo and chaos in Calgary.

Buffalo's win over Rochester was stunning because it ended so emphatically. The Bandits, trailing 8-7 in the fourth quarter at home, scored five times in 4 1-2 minutes in thumping the two-time defending champs 12-8. Buffalo was clearly the better team when the game was on the line.

The Roughnecks' OT win over Edmonton wasn't clear cut at all because of a questionable call by a referee. The Rush led 11-10 one when they were penalized for having too many men on the floor with 22 seconds left. Calgary was awarded a penalty shot. Curtis Dickson tied the score and Jeff Shattler's goal 46 seconds into sudden death ended it, sending Roughnecks fans into a joyous celebration. Trouble was, in those dying seconds of the fourth quarter, Edmonton wasn't the only team with too many men on the floor. We'll get to that but, first, let's take another look at what happened in Buffalo.

John Tavares tied it 8-8 at 8:50 of the fourth quarter from his favourite shooting spot 20 feet or so off to the left of goalie Matt Vinc. Buffalo's Jay Thorimbert won the ensuing faceoff and Dhane Smith broke the tie with a fast-break goal at 9:09. On the Bandits' next scoring chance, Smith took a sidearm shot from the middle of Rochester's zone and a bounce sent the ball into the top of the net at 10:08 for a 10-8 Bandits lead. Mark Steenhuis, at 11:35, and Tavares, at 12:20, added their fourth goals of the night as the Bandits raced away to the win.

Tavares, who had scored a goal in the second quarter with a leap from behind Rochester's net with one hand on his stick, was named the game's MVP after his incredible performance.

''I'm amazed that a 45-year-old man can score from one step behind the net _ top shelf, far side _ with a man draped all over him,'' head coach Troy Cordingley said afterwards.

Cordingley is only 18 months older than Tavares. Considering that getting out of bed is sometimes a chore, he says, watching Tavares score from behind the net was humbling.

''I'm telling you, it's pretty amazing,'' said Cordingley.

Lack of a response from the Rochester offense as Buffalo poured in goal after goal has to be troubling to the 2012 and 2013 champs.

''Our defense was pounding those guys,'' said Bandits goalie Anthony Cosmo. ''I wouldn't want to be any of the offensive players on the other end. ''It's taxing and by the fourth quarter we wear them down and we push a little harder and lean a little harder on them and this is the result we get.''

Craig Point and Johnny Powless took 15 shots on goal in the game but couldn't put a ball behind Cosmo, who made 36 saves. Vinc made 30 saves.

''Both teams were playing even keel for 50 (minutes) and they ran away with it at the end,'' said Rochester forward Dan Dawson.

Buffalo was 8-10 in the regular season before eliminating Toronto in the division semi. Rochester was 14-4 and had a bye to the division final. Game 2 is Saturday night in Rochester. Buffalo advances with a win. Should Rochester win, a 10-minute minigame kicks in to determine which team goes forward.

''I think we're still underdogs,'' says Tavares.

Let's go back to Calgary.

Zack Greer slithers around Curtis Manning and zips across the Calgary zone to fire a ball past goalie Mike Poulin and give Edmonton an 11-10 lead with 1:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Roughnecks have the ball when they call time out with 42 seconds left. Shawn Evans misses the net with a shot with 33 seconds on the clock. Rush goalie Aaron Bold throws a long pass to Chris Corbeil in Calgary's end as both teams change players.

Go to the video at Count six Calgary runners on the floor, and a seventh stepping into the players' bench, when Corbeil catches the ball. He's killing off precious seconds, passes the ball to a teammate, who passes the ball to Jarrett Davis near the Edmonton bench. A ref blows his whistle. Players stand around wondering what's up. The ref fingers the Rush for having too many men on the floor. The ball is placed at the centre of the floor. Dickson gets his free shot and the ball goes between goalie Aaron Bold's left shoulder and the post and drops behind him about three inches over the line. The fans go nuts. Players swarm Dickson to congratulate him on his clutch fourth goal of the night. It's going to OT. Shattler ends it with an acrobat leap to get a carom off the back boards and instantaneously bounce the ball past Bold.

But is that the way the game should have ended?

Here are two alternative endings:

1. A ref signals a delayed penalty against the Roughnecks for too many men as the Rush have possession of the ball, and when Edmonton is caught with too many men the play is blown dead. Both teams get a penalty shot.

2. A ref signals a delayed penalty against the Roughnecks for too many men and when he catches the Rush doing the same thing he puts his arm back down and lets play continue. The Rush kill the clock and escape with a one-goal win.

Either alternative scenario would have provided a greater degree of fairness than what actually took place. Rush head coach Derek Keenan and assistant Jimmy Quinlan pointed out to the refs that Calgary had too many men on the floor. Tough luck, gentlemen.

''If they're going to call it on us, they should call it on them, too, or not call it,'' said Keenan. ''It was ridiculous. It's a tough way to lose a game, for sure.''

Regardless, a round of applause for Calgary goalie Mike Poulin. His team was outshot 56-40 but he got the win and the MVP nod. The 'Necks got the refereeing break at the end but don't overlook that they'd fought back from a 5-1 deficit in an impressive display of grit.

''You never lose until you give up and this group definitely doesn't give up,'' said head coach Curt Malawsky.

Edmonton's offense will have to be better in Game 2 Friday night or that 14-0 memory will only come back to haunt Keenan's crew.

Buffalo and Calgary remain underdogs but they are barking louder today.

One thing is for sure: the Knighthawks and the Rush are thankful the new playoff system gives them a second chance. Under the previous single-game elimination setup, it would be Buffalo at Calgary for the Champion's Cup this weekend.

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