Dhane Smith's 11 points lead Buffalo Bandits to win in Game 1 of NLL Finals


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Buffalo Bandits forward Dhane Smith, looking to pass against Georgia on April 27, became the NLL's all-time assists leader in Friday night's game at Albany. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

Dhane Smith had two goals and nine assists as the Buffalo Bandits defeated the Albany FireWolves 12-8 on Friday night in Game 1 of the NLL Finals in Albany.

The Bandits can clinch back-to-back titles in Saturday’s Game 2 (7:30 p.m. at KeyBank Center).

Smith’s 11 points were his most in a postseason game.

Eight Buffalo players scored at least one goal, including two by Chris Cloutier, who finished with six points. Byrne also had six points.

The Bandits outscored Albany 7-2 in the second half.

Leading 7-6 entering the fourth, the Bandits took the first two-goal lead of the game on Ian McKay’s goal with 14:23 left. Smith’s sixth assist of the game gave him 117 for his postseason career, setting the NLL record previously held by Bandits coach John Tavares.

Albany answered back 33 seconds later on Alex Simmons’ second goal.

The Bandits led 9-7 when Smith found Kyle Buchanan cutting toward the net for the goal with 7:56 remaining. It was Buchanan’s first goal of the game on his eighth shot.

Buffalo scored a key insurance goal with 4:16 remaining as Byrne – named NLL MVP earlier Friday – completed the hat trick.

Smith scored his second goal with 2:34 remaining to stretch the lead to four, followed by Dylan Robinson’s empty-net goal 14 seconds later.

The teams played to a 4-4 tie in the first quarter. Albany scored only 35 seconds into the game on forward Tye Kurtz’s goal, but the Bandits answered with goals by Tehoka Nanticoke (12:16) and Josh Byrne (9:34) to take a 2-1 lead.

The FireWolves tied it at the 7:47 mark on a delayed penalty goal by Ethan Walker and an acrobatic goal by Kurtz (4:51), who left his feet and scored before landing in the crease.

The Bandits used two power play goals 24 seconds apart by Bryne and Smith to take a 4-3 lead. Albany tied it on Walker’s goal with 20.7 seconds left in the quarter. The Bandits outshot Albany 14-12 in the first.

The game settled down in the second quarter. The Bandits scored at the 12:17 mark when Smith found Cloutier wide open at the top of the crease. Albany took a 5-4 lead into halftime on goals by Travis Longboat and Simmons in the final 6:16.

Trailing 6-5 at halftime, the Bandits scored the only two third-quarter goals.

At the 10:27 mark, on a delayed penalty, the Bandits went out a sixth attacker and Cloutier scored.

A challenge by Tavares with 3:03 left in the third gave the Bandits the lead. Chase Fraser’s goal was initially waved off, but replays showed the ball went into the net before he landed in the crease.

Byrne named MVP​

Earlier Friday, Byrne was named the NLL’s Most Valuable Player after scoring a league-best 135 points. Smith and Toronto Rock goaltender Nick Rose finished second and third, respectively.

Bryne won Offensive Player of the Year honors on Thursday. He was third with 53 goals and second with 82 assists during the regular season.

Byrne was named first-team all-league, and Smith and McKay were on the second team.

Champions again: Buffalo Bandits sweep Albany in NLL Finals​

Chase Fraser scored a career-high five goals and Josh Byrne had eight assists as the Buffalo Bandits completed their quest for back-to-back National Lacrosse League titles Saturday night with a 15-13 win over the Albany FireWolves at KeyBank Center.

The Bandits won the best-of-three series 2-0.

"We weren't dominant through the year and we had to fight just to make the playoffs and we caught our stride at the right moment," coach John Tavares said. "It takes a whole team to win a championship. We kept on going this year and it didn't come easy for us. That's what I think about this team."

The Bandits won the sixth title in franchise history and matched the 1992-93 club with consecutive championships.

Byrne, the regular-season NLL MVP, was named MVP of the final series (15 points).

Buffalo was 5-6 at midseason, but finished the year with 11 wins in its last 12 games, including nine straight.

“We have a great leadership in our room and we want to tidy up our defense and attack people with our offense we see the (right) results,” Bandits forward Kyle Buchanan said.

Buffalo Bandits fans celebrate a Chase Frasier goal against the Albany FireWolves during Game 2 of the NLL Finals at the KeyBank Center on Saturday, May 18, 2024. Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Thirteen Bandits players had at least one point.

“They’re so deep and skilled offensively,” Albany coach Glenn Clark said. “Everybody talks about (Smith) and (Byrne) and rightly so, but you look at their complementary pieces, they’re so dangerous.”

As the FireWolves left the floor, the Bandits celebrated. The turf was a yard-sale of equipment. Byrne stood on the dasher board to salute the crowd.

Captain Steve Priolo accepted the NLL Cup at midfield and the trophy was passed from Priolo to Dhane Smith to Nick Weiss to Matt Vinc to Kyle Buchanan to Ian McKay to Fraser to Chris Cloutier.

Although the Bandits never trailed, it was far from a cruise-control evening.

The Bandits led by three in the first quarter … but Albany cut it to one.

The Bandits let by five in the second quarter … but Albany cut it to two at halftime.

The Bandits led by six in the fourth quarter … but Albany cut it to three on a power play goal with 2:39 remaining. The FireWolves closed the scoring with 7.5 seconds remaining.

Buffalo Bandits' Dhane Smith (92) congratulates Chris Cloutier (2) on his goal against the Albany FireWolves during Game 2 of the NLL Finals at the KeyBank Center on
Saturday, May 18, 2024. Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

After the FireWolves cut the lead to one goal (9-8) early in the third quarter, Buffalo went to work.

Over a span of 4:27, the Bandits outscored Albany 5-0, re-taking control of the game. During the run, Fraser scored three goals and Smith and Byrne once apiece. Fraser’s highlight goal was a hidden-ball trick with Byrne, who charged the net giving the impression he had the ball while Fraser scored from the other side of the zone.

By the end of the third quarter, Fraser single-game career highs in goals (five) and points (seven).

The Bandits led 15-9 with 12:05 left on Brandon Robinson’s power-play goal, but the FireWolves scored the next two goals, cutting the lead to 15-11 with 10:01 left on Alex Simmons’ acrobatic marker as he flew through the crease.

Tye Kurtz scored the aforementioned power-play goal to get Albany to 15-12.

In the first quarter, the Bandits scored first on a short-handed goal by Kyle Buchanan on a spinning shot at the top of the crease. After Albany tied it with 10:06 left in the first quarter, the Bandits scored the next three goals in a span of less than three minutes.

Buffalo Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc makes save against the Albany FireWolves during Game 2 of the NLL Finals at the KeyBank Center on Saturday, May 18, 2024.
Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Smith, Dylan Robinson and Brandon Robinson scored during the Bandits’ run, the final goal on a 4-on-3 power play.

The FireWolves, though, responded with two goals to close the quarter, including a power-play goal with 2.4 seconds left, taking advantage of a Bandits illegal substitution penalty.

Byrne had four first-quarter assists for the Bandits.

Buffalo poured it on in the first 5:32 of the second quarter, scoring four consecutive goals.

Tehoka Nanticoke spun away from a defender. Fraser scored in transition. Cloutier from the top of the crease. And Fraser off a rebound. The crowd was in a frenzy.

But Albany woke up, the Bandits let up – or a combination of both.

The Bandits led 8-3 with 9:28 left in the second, but the FireWolves controlled the first of the quarter, scoring four of the next five goals to cut the Bandits' lead two (9-7) at halftime. Albany’s final goal came with 0.5 seconds left in the half.

In the first half, Byrne had seven assists for Buffalo, Fraser and Smith four points apiece and Nanticoke three points.