By Steve Bermel for NLL.com
SASKATOON – Despite a valiant effort on the road, the Buffalo Bandits lost 11-10 to the Saskatchewan Rush in heartbreaking fashion in Game 2 of the Champion’s Cup Finals at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Saturday. With the defeat, the Bandits’ incredible 2016 season came to an end as the Rush hoisted the Champion’s Cup trophy for a second consecutive season.
After a back-and-forth game that featured multiple ties and lead changes, the Bandits answered a three-goal Saskatchewan run with a Kevin Brownell tally to the tie the game 10-10 with 4:24 remaining in the game.
However, with just 12 seconds left on the clock, Jeff Cornwall picked up a Buffalo rebound that bounced high off the boards behind the Saskatchewan net, raced the length of the floor uncontested, and converted past Buffalo goaltender Anthony Cosmo to put the Rush ahead.
While Buffalo was able to generate a quality look with just seconds remaining, Ryan Benesch was unable to beat Aaron Bold, and the Rush stormed the floor to celebrate back-to-back championships.
In the defeat for the Bandits, Dhane Smith finished off his record-breaking season with a fittingly strong performance. Despite consistently drawing double and triple teams from Saskatchewan, Smith still managed a six-point (2+4) night. In support of Smith, Benesch (2+1) and Chad Culp had (0+3) had three points apiece.
Cosmo put forth another solid effort in net for the Bandits. Although the 16-year veteran received medical attention early in the first quarter, Cosmo shrugged off the apparent injury to make 43 saves on 54 shots.
Bold deservedly took the series MVP honours after another impressive performance in net for the Rush. After limiting the Bandits’ league-best offensive attack to nine goals in Game 1, the goaltender made another 47 saves on 57 shots in Game 2.
On the offensive end, Mark Matthews (2+4) and Robert Church (2+4) led the way with six points each. Curtis Knight also had five points (2+3) in the win. It was 5-5 heading into the halftime break.
The Bandits opened the second half with a two-goal run.
With 1:05 played, Nick Weiss received a pass in transition from Mitch Jones and finished with a leaping effort across his body.
Just under three minutes later, the Buffalo converted their first power-play opportunity of the night. With Jeremy Thompson in the box for a holding-the-stick penalty, Benesch faked a shot to Smith and then beat Bold high on the short side.
Saskatchewan answered back with a pair of long-distance goals that caught Cosmo off guard.
First, with 6:49 played, McIntosh scored his second goal of the night. Following a quick restart, the 2015 NLL Rookie of the Year beat Cosmo from just inside the Buffalo end.
A little less than two minutes after McIntosh pulled the Rush back within one, a shorthanded goal from Greer tied the game at 7-7. With Cosmo screened by his own defenseman, Greer’s second of the goal of the night beat the Buffalo goaltender just a few steps inside the halfway line.
Saskatchewan nearly reclaimed the lead a little over a minute later. After a slash from Smith on Ryan Dilks resulted in a penalty shot, Greer was unable to convert past Cosmo as he fired high and wide of the net.
The Bandits closed out the third quarter with a pair of goals.
With 2:22 remaining, David Brock fed Mark Steenhuis and cleared a path for his fellow veteran, and Steenhuis fired a long-range shot that beat Bold to his right.
Smith scored his second of the night coming with 43 seconds remaining. With a hard-charging run to the front of the net, Smith paid the price and finished past Bold to make it 9-7 in favor of the Bandits heading into the final quarter.
Saskatchewan opened the final 15 on a three-goal run to take back the lead.
With 4:11 played, a holding-the-stick penalty to Culp provided the Rush with a power play opportunity, and Matthews capitalized with his second of the night on a shot from straightaway through traffic.
Over five minutes later, Saskatchewan pulled even with a pretty offensive sequence. Greer found a cutting Church, and the third-year forward beat Cosmo 1-on-1.
Just under a minute later, Church scored again with a shot from straightaway that beat Cosmo to his right. Church’s second of the night made it 10-9 in favor of the Rush with 4:35 remaining.
Buffalo answered back almost immediately. Just 11 seconds after Church gave Saskatchewan the lead, Kevin Brownell finished off a 3-on-1 rush to tie the game up at 10-10.
However, Cornwall’s goal with 12 seconds remaining gave Saskatchewan the lead and the Champion’s Cup