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East Division Semifinal: Bandits At Knighthawks

The 2015 NLL Playoffs will kick off on Friday when the Buffalo Bandits (11-7, 3rd seed in the East) head to Blue Cross Arena to take on the Rochester Knighthawks (12-6, 2nd seed in the East) at 7 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on WatchESPN in the United States and on TSN GO in Canada.

Last year, the Bandits backed into the postseason on an eight-game losing streak before heading up to Toronto and beating the Rock 15-13 in the first round of the playoffs. Buffalo then won Game 1 of the East Division Finals before losing Game 2 and Game 3 to the Knighthawks. Despite having a second-half lead against Rochester in all three regular season games this season, the Hawks swept the 2015 regular season series, 3-0.

“It’s an intense rivalry. Quite frankly, we haven’t done our job against them this season,” said Bandits assisant coach Dan Teat. “We’re going to be excited. Our fans are going to come out. It’s going to be really intense to get through the full 60 minutes.

“It’s a new season. You have to be able to put the past behind you. You can’t drag your head after losing and on the flip side we can’t say ‘we’ve been lighting it up so we’ll score at will,’” added Teat. “They’re the defending champs for a reason. We have the mentality that the season is over and we have a one-game showdown against the defending champ. We want to be the ones to knock them off.”

This season, Buffalo enters the postseason on a four-game winning streak where they have averaged over 17 goals per game. The team is hoping its recent success carries over, but they realize Rochester is a very good team.

“We’re happy with how was finished off the season. We’re coming in prepared with a different attitude. It’s a one-game series. If we bring our ‘A game’, we should be okay,”” said Bandits forward Dhane Smith. “We put in a good practice Tuesday. We’ve learned their defense. We’re going to have to get to the middle of the floor and create from there. We have to move the ball like we have been.”

“The biggest thing is the buy-in factor from every guy on the floor. We wanted to win to get in and get on a roll,” Teat said. “Look at the way we’re playing, especially offensively, the guys have been doing a really good job sharing the ball and they have been shooting well. Confidence will be a big factor going into this weekend.”

Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley is excited and ready for the playoffs and he hopes his roster is too.

“The six teams that are in the playoffs, if they’re not motivated, they’re in the wrong business,” Cordingley said. “It doesn’t matter who you play. It’s a grind and you have to be at your best or it’s going to be a short postseason.”

The first meeting between the two teams came in Week 5, with the Knighthawks playing host and coming away with a 17-11 win. The Knighthawks held a big lead at the half but the Bandits stormed back and took a one goal lead early in the fourth before Rochester took the game over with a seven-goal outburst.

The second meeting came on Valentine’s Day in Week 7 with the Knighthawks traveling to Buffalo and coming away with a 15-10 win. The game was tight through three but the Knighthawks once again took control in the fourth.

The third and final regular season meeting came one week later back at the BCA. It was the tightest game of all, with Rochester rallying late after falling behind 11-6 and winning 13-12 in overtime. Once again, the fourth quarter belonged to Rochester.

So does all that mean that the Knighthawks have a decided advantage over the Bandits heading into Friday night’s game?

“Not one bit,” said Knighthawks transition player Brad Self. “Totally new season. It’s obviously nice that we’ve done well against them in the past, but we know they’ve made some lineup changes throughout the year. Some guys have moved from the ‘D’ end to the ‘O’ end. They’ve made some deals to open it up for other guys. It’s obviously worked. It’s a completely different lineup than we saw in terms of where guys are in their lineups.”

The Knighthawks are not falling back on the team’s three-straight championships as an indication that they will be able to weather any storm that the red-hot Bandits will throw at them. As Self said, it’s a totally new season.

“We pay attention to other games that are going on each week,” Self said. “We know they’ve been playing well. Their team is clicking well at the right time. Their offense has been putting up tons of goals… We’re going to gameplan for them tonight at practice. We’ll be well-prepared as we always are. We know we have to be ready. They’ve got some people that can create something out of nothing over there… It’s going to be a 60-minute game. Each shift is going to be important so we have to be prepared knowing what a high-powered offense they have over there. At the same time, we have faith in our goalie Matty Vinc and our defense. We trust one another. It should make for an exciting game Friday night.”

One change in the lineup that came as part of a trade was the Joe Resetarits trade between Rochester and Buffalo. The Bandits sent Resetarits over to Rochester in exchange for defenseman Jamie Batson. Since joining the Knighthawks at the trade dealine, Resetarits has 27 points (13+14) in 7 games.

“Joe’s been dynamite for us,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “He’s a great little player. He works so hard and he doesn’t need the ball on his stick. He can get himself open with ‘Daws’ (Dan Dawson) and (Stephen) Keogh and ‘Pointer’ (Craig Point) over on the right side. He’s been a great fit. Feels like he’s been there for years.”

One advantage the Knighthawks do have is playing in the friendly confines of the BCA. Rochester went 7-2 at home during the regular season, losing a tight one in Week 1 to the Rock 13-12 and the embarassment of Week 13 against the Edmonton Rush, who won 16-3. Some of that is mitigated by the Bandits’ faithful who travel so well across the Interstate-90 from Buffalo to Rochester though.

“It’s what we work for in the regular season,” Self said. “Get into the playoffs and then obviously to have home floor as much as possible. It will be huge. Our fans have been behind us for the last three years. We’re looking forward to Friday night. That being said, we know that Buffalo will be hungry and they’re going to bring their fans so it should make for an exciting game.”

The winner of the single-game elimination series will host the Toronto Rock for Game 1 of the East Division Finals on Saturday, May 16 before travelling to Toronto on Saturday, May 23 to play Game 2 and Game 3 (if necessary).

By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) & Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.