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Bandits win in OT, advance title defense to semifinal stage

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Josh Byrne scored his fifth goal of night four minutes into overtime to lift the reigning NLL Cup champions to the next stage of their title defense and ensure another playoff game back in Banditland.

Beating the Georgia Swarm 10-9 in Saturday night’s quarterfinal playoff game at KeyBank Center, the Bandits move on to the league semifinals for the 22nd time in 31 seasons. Buffalo will meet rival Toronto for the third consecutive postseason, opening the best of three series Friday night in Hamilton, Ontario, and returning home Sunday for Game 2.

The fifth overtime playoff game in Bandits history was the first Buffalo has won since 1992, when current coach John Tavares scored to win the first championship for the franchise.

Dhane Smith, who had six assists and joined Tavares as one of three players in league history to record 100 assists in the postseason, appeared to score the winner at the end of regulation. But overhead video showed Smith’s bounce shot crossed the goal line one-tenth of a second too late. Byrne rang a shot off the post with 27 seconds left that bounced through the goal crease but never crossed into scoring territory.

“I think this is why this is the best sport that there is,” Byrne said. “I don’t know how many sports you get that kind of action. … It’s an unreal game with tons of highs and lows and you got to just stay composed and keep fighting.”

Chris Cloutier stripped the ball in transition to set up Buffalo’s winning possession, and screened Byrne open for the long straightaway shot.

“Cloutch with a huge stopped turnover to prevent them from breaking down the floor,” Byrne said. “He set a massive pick and did all the work. I don’t think he gets enough credit.”

The Bandits have beaten Toronto in their past four playoff series, sweeping last year’s semifinals. They also swept the regular season meetings, winning 16-14 both times, though the Rock finished with the best record in the NLL at 15-3.

“It’s probably the best rivalry in lacrosse,” Bandits transition player Ian McKay said. “We’ve had the better end of it recently, and hopefully that continues. They were at the top of the league, and are a very talented team from tough to bottom.”

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Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.

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