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Packed Up: Black Wolves Down Bandits On Road, 12-11

The New England Black Wolves (4-8) earned a crucial win to keep its playoff hopes alive by beating the Buffalo Bandits (7-7) by a score of 12-11 on Saturday night in front of 13,674 at First Niagara Center. New England came off a 12-8 loss in Minnesota on Friday evening while Buffalo had a bye last week. The Black Wolves held off a late charge by the Bandits in a back and forth game, but never trailed.

New England opened the scoring just 41 seconds into the game on a Kyle Buchanan goal. Pat Saunders gave the Wolves a 2-0 lead before Mark Steenhuis found the back of the net for Buffalo. Newly-acquired Black Wolves scorer Garrett Billings scored on a point shot to make the score 3-1 and end the first quarter.

Ryan Benesch and Dhane Smith both scored to start the second quarter and tied the game 3-3. Brett Bucktooth tallied a goal on the power play to give the Wolves the lead back 4-3. The Bandits outshot the Black Wolves 29-20 in the first half.

Benesch netted his second of the game followed by a Mark Cockerton notch to make the score 5-4 in favor of New England. Bandits captain John Tavares tied the game for the third time before Cockerton scored shorthanded and gave New England the lead back again. The Wolves took a three goal lead on goals by Josh Johnson and Kevin Buchanan with under four minutes to go in the third quarter. Smith and Jerome Thompson answered for Buffalo to make the score 8-7 before Saunders gave the Wolves a 9-7 lead heading into the final quarter.

Brett Manney scored from outside to extend the Black Wolves’ lead to three. Benesch responded with his third goal of the game, but New England expanded its lead to four at 12-8 with goals from Mike Manley and Johnson. Buffalo got two goals from Benesch and one from Smith to pull within one, but couldn’t tie the game late.

Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley was not happy with his team’s effort in the loss.

“We were awful. It’s frustrating. We didn’t deserve to be that close. We battled back which was a good sign, but we were awful,” said Cordingley. “Everything went wrong.”

“Trust me, it was very frustrating. We dug ourselves a hole and didn’t get out of it,” said Bandits forward Ryan Benesch. “We didn’t stick to the way we normally play. We got away from our systems and gameplan and it ended up hurting us.”

After a tough loss in Minnesota last night, Black Wolves head coach Blane Harrison was happy with his team after win on the road in a game in which his team never trailed.

“We made some changes. The guys were upset with themselves after last night. A lot of what happened today was due to the leadership in the locker room,” he said. “We kept them game simple and let the talent come to the top and we played from the heart tonight.”

Evan Kirk shined as he stopped 47 of the 58 shots he faced. He felt good about both of his games from this weekend.

“I had a decent game last night, I was seeing the ball well. It carried over into tonight,” said Kirk. “We’ve got nothing to lose. We have to win from here on out if we want to stay alive [in the playoff race].”

Bandits forward Mark Steenhuis celebrated his 800th point as a Bandit. He joined the Bandits in 2003 and has 67 points on the 2015 season thus far.

Defenseman Jamie Batson made his debut with Buffalo after being acquired on Tuesday at the trade deadline. Matthew Bennett was the emergency backup goaltender for Buffalo as Davide DiRuscio was injured during pregame warmups.

Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:

1) Evan Kirk
2) Ryan Benesch
3) Dhane Smith

By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.