The Regina Pats are proving to be a tough nut to crack for the Prince Albert Raiders.
The Pats won 4-3 in a Wednesday match-up at the Art Hauser Centre, giving the Memorial Cup hosts five straight wins against the Raiders.
Despite the loss, Raiders coach Marc Habscheid credited his team for their mental toughness and focused on the positive aspects of their play.
“We had a couple of chances late to tie it up and we almost did tie it,” he said following the game. “Our guys never gave up and they played hard. It was a ferocious game tonight.”
Those sentiments extended to the Raider roster, which remained irritated, but encouraged, with Wednesday’s effort.
“Honestly, I thought we played a really good game today,” team captain Curtis Miske said. “I thought we were the better team. We took some penalties we didn’t want to take in the third period, which might have cost us, but I think we played them really well. Yes, at the end of the day we didn’t get the two points, but there are a lot of positives to take away.”
“We battled hard right from the start,” added Regan Nagy, who had two assists on the night. “I think we’ve just got to play that (way) all the way through, play the full 60, and it will be a different outcome for us.”
The chances came early and often in Wednesday’s contest, with goaltenders Curtis Meger and Ryan Kubic making some key saves in the opening frame. Kubic stopped Cole Fonstad on a penalty shot less than two minutes into the game, while Meger denied Cameron Hebig and Jesse Gabrielle on back-to-back breakaways.
The Raiders kept pressing and were rewarded with a power play goal shortly after the five-minute mark. Vojtech Budik hammered home a one-timer for his fourth goal of the season, giving Prince Albert an early 1-0 lead.
Budik’s goal looked like it was going to be the only one of the period, but Jake Leschyshyn’s goal with 4.7 seconds left in the frame sent both teams into the intermission tied at one.
The Raiders retook the lead in the second, when Curtis Miske’s shot found it’s way underneath Kubic’s pad and into the net. It was a fortunate bounce for the Raider captain, but one he was more than happy to take.
“I just walked over the line and just tried to shoot it far pad for a rebound for Stally (Jordy Stallard) and it ended up going in,” he chuckled. “I’ll take them as they come.”
However the lead was short lived. Regina’s Matt Bradley scored his first of two on the night just 25 seconds later, sending both teams into the final frame tied yet again.
Special teams proved to be the difference in the third, as the Raiders failed to capitalize on a five-on-three power play, while the Pats scored back-to-back goals with the man advantage to take a 4-2 lead.
“We got into penalty trouble in the third period and they’ve got a lot of firepower on their power play,” Habscheid said. “They cashed in and that was the difference.”
“We moved the puck around good. We just have to find a way to score on our power play,” Miske added. “That’s probably the turning point and they got momentum out of that, which is unfortunate, but we’ll keep practicing and find a way.”
Jordy Stallard made things tight with a smooth backhand shot over a falling Kubic during a breakaway at 15:07, but that was as close as the home side got. The Pats shut the door the rest of the way, and left town with a 4-3 win.
The victory puts Regina five points up on the Saskatoon Blades and firmly in the driver’s seat in the Eastern Conference playoff race with 52 points. The loss means the Raiders fail to gain ground on the idle Saskatoon Blades, who hold the conference’s final playoff spot. The Blades sit five points behind the Past and seven points up on the Raiders, although Prince Albert has two games in hand.
The Raiders are back in action again on Friday when they travel to the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer for a tilt with the struggling Rebels, who haven’t won since Dec. 15. Puck drop is 8 p.m.
The next Raiders’ home game is on Friday, Jan. 26 when they welcome the Prince George Cougars to the Art Hauser Centre. Game time is 7 p.m.
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