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Dan Craig of the Toronto Rock.

NLL Playoffs: Another Chapter in Bandits-Rock Rivalry on Tap

April 29, 2024
Jack Goods
National Lacrosse League

The top four seeds in the National Lacrosse League playoffs all advanced to the semifinals, but that doesn’t mean the opening weekend of the postseason was uneventful.

Two overtime thrillers and unforgettable play between the pipes were highlights of Saturday and Sunday’s action. The results set up a scintillating semifinal rematch from last season, and another which will lead to a team playing in the NLL Finals for the first time.


Saturday night brought emotions Bandits head coach John Tavares hasn’t felt since 1992 — the last time Buffalo went to overtime in the postseason.

Longtime fans will remember how that contest ended. Tavares scored his famous behind-the-back goal to lift Buffalo over Philadelphia for the franchise’s first championship. The stakes weren’t quite as high this go-around, but it still featured a fair share of celebration for the over 17,000 in Banditland.

Josh Byrne notched his fifth goal of the night to end a nervy extra frame, keeping the Bandits’ hopes of a repeat alive. He drilled a sidearm shot from up top to seal a 10-9 final.

The other half of Buffalo’s dynamic duo, Dhane Smith, appeared to net the winner at the very end of regulation. He restarted play from the Bandits’ end with six seconds on the clock, orchestrated a give-and-go and beat Brett Dobson with a bouncer. Upon further review, the ball crossed the line about a tenth of a second after the buzzer.

That meant Buffalo had to regroup and put together a handful of strong defensive possessions before Byrne released the stress from the arena. This time, it counted.

“I think this is why this is the best sport that there is,” Byrne said. “It’s an unreal game with tons of highs and lows, and you got to just stay composed and keep fighting.”

Just as important as Byrne’s final tally was Kyle Buchanan’s equalizer. He was in the right place at the right time to immediately collect a rebound and quick stick it into the net with 5:55 on the clock. The goal gave Buffalo a final opportunity to avoid the frustration that would have come with failing to lock up a game it at one point led 8-5.

“Maybe a little too close for our comfort, but credit to them, they held us to a really tight game and both goalies played unbelievable,” Bandits transition player Ian MacKay said. “Those are the real fun ones.”


Dane Dobbie served as a reminder of a classic lesson this weekend — if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

The veteran Seals star known for coming up big in the clutch had a tremendous opportunity to add to his legend about two and a half minutes into overtime. Dobbie collected his own rebound off a shot from outside, giving him a one-on-one opportunity with a still-recovering Nick Damude. He deked his way to the crease and rose up to go over the top of the Panther City tender but missed wide. For a few defeated moments, he stood hunched over behind the crease, certainly metaphorically kicking himself.

Yet San Diego retained the ball, allowing Dobbie to pick his chin up and get back in position as his teammates reset. Four passes later, Wes Berg found Dobbie on the right side, and he buried a bouncer for a 9-8 triumph.

“It was a fantastic lacrosse game,” Dobbie said on the floor as the ESPN+ broadcast ended. “I just had the last shot. I missed one earlier, so it was nice to finish it.”

Damude did all he could to will Panther City to the franchise’s first playoff win. He made 54 saves as he and San Diego’s Chris Origlieri dueled in the second half; the goalies allowed just a pair of goals each in the final 30 minutes of regulation.

Berg and Austin Staats each had five points for San Diego, which is off to the semifinals for the second time in three seasons.


Toronto was hot out of the gate, opening with a 4-0 run in the first four minutes, and shut out Rochester in the third quarter en route to a 9-6 victory.

Nick Rose, a serious candidate for the league’s Most Valuable Player honor, made 51 saves in yet another impressive outing. It’s the first time a Toronto goaltender held an opponent to six or fewer goals in a playoff game since Rose himself accomplished the feat in 2012 against Buffalo.

The defense in front of him was also up to the task, allowing the K-Hawks to score just once in the first 22 minutes and holding them off the scoreboard for over 20 minutes stretching from the second quarter into the fourth.

“Obviously he’s been the backbone of our team all season and obviously brought it into the first game of the playoffs,” defender Brad Kri said of Rose. “It clearly starts with him, and we just clearly give him the shots that he wants to see. He has also made some saves that he probably had no business making as well.”

Captain Challen Rogers scored the Rock’s first two goals within the first three minutes as part of a five-point night. Mark Matthews dished out three assists in addition to a goal.

For the Rock, the semifinals provide another opportunity to prevail in a matchup of classic rivals. Toronto has not eliminated Buffalo from the postseason in 12 years. During that timeframe, the Bandits have sent their QEW foes home in 2014, 2019 and 2022.

“It’s probably the best rivalry in lacrosse,” MacKay said. “We’ve had the better end of it recently, and hopefully that continues.”


No one held the Halifax Thunderbirds under eight goals for the entirety of the regular season. Doug Jamieson and the FireWolves limited them to three when it mattered most.

Jamieson was stellar between the pipes in a performance he called his best yet, making 52 saves in a 9-3 win. It was a gutty performance from a young FireWolves squad that looked like it lost its early spark down the stretch of the regular season.

The result was Jamieson’s first career postseason win, as well as the FireWolves’ first since their move from New England. The last playoff win for the Capital Region came when the Attack bested Rochester in 2002.

“For me, best moment of my career, for sure," Jamieson said.

The game was closer than the final score suggests, with Albany holding tight to a 6-3 lead heading into the final three minutes. As chance after chance flew by the Thunderbirds, frustration built up. Tyson Bell took an untimely roughing penalty with four minutes remaining, then Jake Withers and David Brock were both handed game misconducts in an ugly ending. Brock, already in the penalty box, made his way over to the FireWolves’ side and climbed up on the glass in what appeared to be an attempt to have a word with a fan.

The T-Birds have been eliminated in the quarterfinals for three straight seasons. With a veteran roster on hand, could changes be coming in the offseason?


All times EST

No. 4 Buffalo Bandits vs. No. 1 Toronto Rock

Game 1: Friday, May 3, 7:30 p.m. in Toronto
Game 2: Sunday, May 5, 5 p.m. in Buffalo
Game 3 (if necessary): Saturday, May 11, 7 p.m. in Toronto

No. 3 Albany FireWolves vs. No. 2 San Diego Seals

Game 1: Friday, May 3, 10:30 p.m. in San Diego
Game 2: Sunday, May 5, 3 p.m. in Albany
Game 3 (if necessary): Friday, May 10, 10:30 p.m. in San Diego