It wasn't exactly the lasting image the Thunder wanted to leave.
Slipping behind the defense, John Tavares scored the game-winner with 50.8 seconds left to lift the Buffalo Bandits to a 16-15 victory over the Thunder before 8,203 at the Baltimore Arena last night.
The Thunder (6-2) had its four-game home winning streak ended and won't return to the Arena until the season finale April 3. It now only leads the second-place Toronto Rock by a game.
The Bandits (4-3), who lost to the Thunder by seven goals on Jan. 16, had not played for three weeks.
The Thunder's last chance came with two seconds left, but Matt Shearer's shot was stopped by Matt Disher.
The Thunder, which had eight power-play goals, lost its first-half momentum in the third quarter, when Buffalo converted on three of four shots to go ahead, 11-9, only 4 1/2 minutes into the period. After the Thunder had pulled within a goal, Buffalo's Chris Panos scored on a fast break and Rich Kilgour converted a one-on-one off the ensuing faceoff to give the Bandits a 13-10 margin.
But the Thunder made the Bandits pay for their mistakes. Making quick work of two power plays, it notched two goals in the final minute of the third quarter to close to 13-12.
Buffalo moved ahead 14-12 on Matt Steinwald's goal, but the Thunder responded with consecutive goals against a Bandits defense at full strength for only the second time all night. Joe Hiltz scored off an underhand shot and then set up Matt Shearer.
Seconds after killing off its first man-down situation, Buffalo moved back ahead on Darris Kilgour's goal with 5: 41 remaining. Just 27 seconds after that, the Thunder's Tim Hormes put in a diving shot across the goal mouth for the fourth tie of the game.
The Thunder had an opportunity to take the lead with two minutes left, when Tom Ryan broke free and only had to beat Disher. But the goalie made a sprawling kick save to keep the game tied.
The Thunder looked crisp early on, as Gary Gait scored and assisted Joe Hiltz for a 2-1 lead four minutes into the game. The rest of the quarter was a contrast of Buffalo finishing its shots and the Thunder rushing its chances.
The Bandits went on a 5-1 run in the remaining 10 minutes of the first quarter to grab a 6-3 edge.
In a similar situation two weeks ago, Thunder goalkeeper Chris Sanderson was pulled. However, coach John Tucker stuck with Sanderson this time and the former Virginia stopper settled down in the second quarter to finish out his first full half in five games.
The Thunder scored four times off power plays to fuel a 5-0 run over a four-minute span to retake the lead at 8-6 midway in the second.
Pub Date: 2/28/99