Bandits, Rock set to battle for NLL Cup berth

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“It’s going to be a bloodbath out there.”

That’s what Buffalo Bandits forward Josh Byrne had to say of his team’s impending matchup with the Toronto Rock in the East Division Final.

If you want to see a true war on the floor, look no further than Saturday’s game. The East Division rivals have been going toe to toe for over two decades, and the animosity grows with every meeting.

However, for a pair of teams that play multiple times a year, they’ve only met five times in the postseason.

The Rock hold a slight 3-2 edge in the playoffs, including a 1-0 record on the road. That win was also in the East Division Final in 2011. The Rock managed to notch a 12-11 win to punch their ticket to the championship game. They’d go on to win their sixth cup against the Washington Stealth.

Toronto also holds the advantage in the season series. They were able to open the season with a 17-12 win at KeyBank Center but then dropped the next matchup with the Bandits in March. In the rubber match at Scotiabank Arena, the Rock were able to win the season series with an overtime thriller.

Despite their success against the Bandits in the regular season, this game will be anything but easy for the Rock.

Buffalo was dominant during the regular season, winning a franchise record 14 games while flustering opposing teams with their all-around skill.

They proved why they are atop the League standings in their first-round matchup against the New England Black Wolves last weekend. The Bandits scored on their first three shots of the game and coasted the rest of the way for a 13-6 victory in front of their home faithful.

The Rock, on the other hand, had a bit of a closer victory against the Georgia Swarm on Monday.

Georgia scored three goals in a 41-second stretch to cut the Rock's lead to two in the fourth. Toronto did escape with the victory in the end, but it had to work for a win that looked well in hand at one point down the stretch.

Buffalo did a good job of spreading the wealth in their Divisional Semi-Final win, as 14 players registered at least a point. Dhane Smith led the team with a pair of goals and five assists. Toronto got most of its offence from Tom Schreiber, Rob Hellyer, and Adam Jones last weekend. The trio was involved in 12 of the Rock’s 16 goals on the night.

The winner of this game will also gain home-floor advantage in the finals, and with the league's new playoff format, that means that they'll host two separate games in friendly confines.

For the Rock, they’ll need to get inside on the Bandits’ defence in order to solve Vinc. On the other side, Buffalo will likely be looking to get Rose moving side to side. Both teams have potent offences and solid transition games, so this one could be high scoring.

Bragging rights will be the least of either team’s worries come game time. In a one-game elimination, both teams will likely come out of the gates swinging. There will be no shortage of playoff intensity and the physicality should follow suit.

The Rock are the only team that managed to beat the Bandits multiple times this season. The third victory will be the hardest to secure, and the visitors will need their most complete game of the year to make it to the cup final.

Austin Owens