Blades and Raiders all square after four games

Liam Richards/Saskatoon StarPhoenix Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Jeremy Masella and Saskatoon Blades forward Kirby Dach go into the boards during the first period of WHL playoff action Wednesday.

The best-of-seven battle between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Saskatoon Blades has become a best-of-three affair.

Despite firing 44 shots at Blades netminder Nolan Maier, the Raiders were only able to find the back of the net once over the course of 60 minutes as the hosts came away with a 4-1 win at the SaskTel Centre Wednesday to even up the Western Hockey League Eastern Conference semifinal matchup at two games apiece.

“I thought we were deserving of a better fate,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “We’re getting chances, which is the main thing, but we have to find a way to score a few more goals.

“I have to give Maier credit again as he stood on his head in the second period to keep it from being a 2-0 game. I thought we would have a better push in the third period, but we ran into some penalty troubles on some interesting calls. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Dante Hannoun got the Raiders on the board at the halfway point of the first period on a shorthanded goal, as the visitors fired 22 shots at Maier in the opening frame.

“I thought we created a lot of scoring chances tonight but we need to bury them when we have those opportunities,” Hannoun said. “We need to be stronger on our second and third shots on net.”

A few minutes after a shot from Cole Fonstad rolled across the Blades goal line, the hosts tied things up at the 12:02 mark of the second stanza as Max Gerlach sniped a shot past Ian Scott for his first goal of the series.

Gerlach would then dish out a helper just 71 seconds later as he fed the puck to Tristen Robins to give the Blades the lead.

“I know that I’m counted on to provide offence, but when you have two teams like this playing each other, chances are hard to come by out there,” Gerlach said.

“I wasn’t able to help the guys out there in the first couple of games, so it felt good to get that goal and get things going.”

The overager would complete a three-point night in the third period as he got an assist on Kyle Crnkovic’s goal.

Eric Florchuk would score into an empty net in the late stages of regulation for the Blades, who got a three-assist night from blueliner Dawson Davidson and a 43-save showing from Maier.

“Nolan’s playing some of his best hockey for us right now,” Gerlach said. “I can’t say enough about him. He’s one of the best goalies in the nation.”

Scott stopped 34 shots for the Raiders, who lost back-to-back games for just the second time this season.

The series will now shift to the Art Hauser Centre for Game 5 at 7 p.m. Friday, with the sixth game in the series taking place at the SaskTel Centre at 4 p.m. Sunday.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey up there this year, especially in the second game on Sunday until they charged back in the third period,” Gerlach said. “If we can play like we did in these last two games in their barn, we should be fine.”

“Having that home ice advantage is what you want in a series like this, as our fans bring a lot of energy to the rink,” Hannoun added. “We know that Saskatoon is going to be battling us hard on Friday.”

A seventh and deciding contest, if required, would be held in Prince Albert at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Post-Game Notes

The only other time that the Raiders have lost consecutive games this season was on Feb. 15 and 16 as they suffered a pair of losses in a home-and-home series to the Brandon Wheat Kings.

After missing two games due to an injury, defender Reece Harsch returned to the lineup on Wednesday for the Blades as he was drawn into the lineup in favour of Majid Kaddoura after the pre-game skate.

Koen MacInnes, Alex Ozar, Randen Schmidt and Colton Dach were also scratched by the Blades, while Loeden Schaufler did not dress for the Raiders.

Wednesday’s Scores

WHL

  • Edmonton 6 Calgary 0 (Edmonton wins 4-0 and will play winner of Prince Albert/Saskatoon in Eastern Conference final – Andrew Fyten – One Goal and One Assist – Dylan Myskiw – 18 Saves – First Career Playoff Shutout)
  • Spokane 3 Everett 1 (Spokane leads 3-0 – Adam Beckman – One Goal and One Assist)

OHL

  • Guelph 4 London 3 (London leads 3-1 – Nick Suzuki – One Goal and Two Assist)

QMJHL

  • Halifax 4 Moncton 2 (Halifax leads 4-0 – Semifinal Opponent TBD – Antoine Morand – One Goal and Two Assists)
  • Drummondville 4 Sherbrooke 2 (Drummondville leads 3-1 – Felix Lauzon – Two Goals and One Assist)

Thursday’s Schedule

QMJHL

  • Rimouski vs. Cape Breton (Game 4) – 4 p.m.
  • Rouyn-Noranda vs. Victoriaville (Game 4) – 5 p.m.

OHL

  • Ottawa vs. Sudbury (Game 4) – 5 p.m.
  • Niagara vs. Oshawa (Game 4) – 5 p.m.
  • Saginaw vs. Sault Ste. Marie (Game 4) – 5 p.m.

WHL

  • Vancouver vs. Victoria (Game 4) – 8 p.m.

Friday’s Schedule

QMJHL

  • Rimouski vs. Cape Breton (Game 5) – 4 p.m.
  • Rouyn-Noranda vs. Victoriaville (Game 5 – If Necessary) – 5 p.m.
  • Sherbrooke vs. Drummondville (Game 5) – 5:30 p.m.

OHL

  • Sault Ste. Marie vs. Saginaw (Game 5 – If Necessary) – 5 p.m.
  • Guelph vs. London (Game 5) – 5:30 p.m.

WHL

  • Saskatoon vs. Prince Albert (Game 5) – 7 p.m.
  • Everett vs. Spokane (Game 4) – 8 p.m.