BANDITS HOST TITANS IN EAST FINAL
Buffalo & New York meet tonight at HSBC Arena
The Buffalo Bandits host the New York Titans tonight at 7:30 PM ET at HSBC Arena in the East Division Final. The winner of Saturday's game will host the 2008 Edge NLL Championship Game.
The red-hot Titans have won five straight games, including a franchise first road-win over the Minnesota Swarm last weekend.
New York and Buffalo finished the regular season with identical 10-6 records, but tiebreakers gave Buffalo the regular season championship and home-field advantage.
Buffalo advanced to the East Division Final with a 14-12 home-win over the Philadelphia Wings. Mike Accursi had a breakout game with four goals and three assists for the Bandits.
Casey Powell scored four goals and Jeff Ratcliffe added a season-high three to lead the Titans past Minnesota, 11-8.
"It just seems like someone else steps up every game for us," said Ratcliffe. "I'm primarily an off-ball guy, setting picks and trying to get the ball-carriers open so they can make the right decision. We're just a well balanced team, someone's always ready to step up when we need it."
Ratcliffe's three-goal effort was his best since he signed as a free agent contract with New York this offseason.
The two East rivals split the regular season series, 1-1, with the home team winning each game. Buffalo topped New York, 17-13, at HSBC Arena on January 19th, before the Titans returned the favor with a 10-9 overtime victory at Madison Square Garden in February.
The Titans win sparked New York's recent hot streak, and they've gone 9-2 since.
"That was huge," remarked Titans head coach Adam Mueller. "That was just a tremendous confidence boost for the guys more than anything else. We would have gone 1-5 at that point. It was definitely something that got our roll started."
Despite the recent winning streak, the Titans will need to overcome a hostile environment to notch their first win in 'BanditLand'. Buffalo is 8-2 at home in 2008, including their first round playoff win against Philadelphia.
"We need to keep our composure," added Mueller. "It's a tough place to play. They've got a great team."
"Anytime you play in Buffalo it's going to be a hostile environment," added Titans goalkeeper Matt Vinc. "Hopefully we'll be able to channel the energy as much as their team is."
Buffalo's lineup has both the talent and playoff experience to make a run at the Champion's Cup. They also have a chip on their shoulder -- the Bandits have been in the playoffs for the past five seasons, including two losing efforts in the Championship Game, in 2004 and 2006.
"We've been in that position before and we know what it feels like to lose," said Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour. "We don't want to have that feeling again."
Mark Steenhuis, John Tavares and Kevin Dostie combined for 85 goals this season, while Mike Accursi has been clutch of late as well.
"I never go in there thinking I have to score four goals," said Accursi. "It was the same in Rochester last year. You have so many weapons on our team, I don't think any of us really feel the pressure to score goals. It makes it tough against defenses playing against us. Who do you lock up?"
The trio of Casey Powell, Pat Maddalena and Mike McLellan have combined for 99 goals for New York.
Although Mike Thompson earned the win in last week's playoff game against Philadelphia, as well as against New York earlier this year, Kilgour revealed on Wednesday's head coaches call that Ken Montour will start in goal for Buffalo, a surprise move.
"Kenny earned the start and the guys are confident in him," said Kilgour.
Matt Vinc will start in goal for New York. In his first full season as a starter, Vinc has been consistent, finishing in the top 10 in goals against average and save percentage.
"He's gotta be the best goalie out there this year, hands down," said Ratcliffe. "Especially late in the game, he's just been a brick wall in the fourth quarter."
The Titans are certainly rolling coming into the weekend, but defeating Buffalo in their home arena is still a lofty task.
"The guys are confident," said Mueller. "I think the trick is just to let them play loose and enjoy the playoffs in their second year. Hopefully with give Buffalo our best effort of the season."