Raiders go 7-0; hit 30 wins on the year

Prince Albert Raiders forward Parker Kelly carries the puck and looks for a pass deep in the Edmonton Oil Kings' zone during the first period of the teams' WHL game on March 7, 2018 from P.A. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The Prince Albert Raiders hit lucky number seven Wednesday night at the Art Hauser Centre.

The Western Hockey League club beat the Edmonton Oil Kings 4-2 to earn their seventh straight victory, their 30th win of the year. It now puts the team four points up on the Saskatoon Blades to hold the Eastern Conference’s second and final wildcard playoff spot, with six regular season games remaining for each team.

“A win’s, a win’s, a win. It wasn’t our best game, but we did enough to win. And at this time of year, it’s all about points. We got the points,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said.

The Raiders also now move closer to the Brandon Wheat Kings, who are four points up on P.A. with the conference’s first wildcard playoff spot.

“They kept us honest,” Habscheid said of Edmonton. “They got those timely goals in the first (period); that kind of kept them interested, kept us on our heels a little bit. But I thought we controlled the puck a lot and kept the puck a lot, and that resulted in them not having a lot of chances.”

Edmonton grabbed the game’s early momentum, heading into the first intermission up 2-1 on P.A. David Kope and Colton Kehler each beat goalie Ian Scott with wrist shots from the mid-slot area at the beginning and end of the period, respectively.

Regan Nagy put the Raiders on the scoreboard midway through the period, after outmuscling an Edmonton defenceman and throwing the puck on net.

Raiders captain Curtis Miske and defenceman Max Martin put their side up 3-2 within the first two minutes of the second; after that, the game took a turn for the bloodied and the bruised.

Oil Kings defenceman Ethan Cap took a Raiders’ slap shot right in the mouth at close range and started spilling blood in front of goalie Josh Dechaine’s crease. (He returned in the third period with a full cage on his helmet, reportedly less 11 teeth.)

Prince Albert Raiders forward Brett Leason (20) battles for the puck with Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Wyatt McLeod (6) during the first period of the teams’ WHL game from P.A. on March 7, 2018. — Evan Radford/Daily Herald

And Raiders forward Parker Kelly made an errant check on forward Brett Leason in the period’s final minute; it knocked his line-mate out of the game.

Kelly had intended to hit an Edmonton skater with the puck in front of the teams’ benches; Leason followed the puck-carrier. When Kelly moved in for the check, the Edmonton skater moved away at the last second, which left Leason exposed and Kelly unable to readjust. Wobbly-legged, Leason couldn’t skate to his bench under his own duress after the hit.

“I mean, I’ve kind of just been sick to my stomach ever since that. Obviously I didn’t want to hammer my teammate, but i guess it’s kind of a hockey play. Seeing the way Leas (Leason) was, it was pretty scary for me … I had to regroup in the dressing room, and kind of just find my breath.”

Kelly said he apologized to Leason and that he accepted it. His teammates also rallied around him and Leason, he said, encouraging Kelly to regroup and that they needed him for the final period. “That was a big help; especially my closer friends here were telling me ‘don’t worry about it.'”

The third period didn’t start in any remarkable way; each team seemed to play a bit tenuous and cautious through the first half. But at 10:30, Habscheid called a timeout for his team, and that seemed to do the trick.

Shortly after, Kelly brought the game’s momentum back to his team at 13:21. He stuck on an Edmonton skater with the puck, following him deep into the Oil Kings’ zone.

As the puck-carrier paused in the corner to throw off Kelly, the Raiders forward made a quick snatch on the puck to turn it over and skate straight down the goal line for a shot on Dechaine. He threw it at the net, just as teammate Kody McDonald approached the Edmonton crease; the puck banked off an Edmonton player’s skate and into the goal, past Dechaine.

4-2 for P.A. The Raiders dominated puck possession for the rest of the game.

“It was a good character win by us, and we needed those points. It was good to see,” Kelly said.

“I think our group is a pretty close group,” Habscheid explained. “They play together, they work hard, they don’t cheat the game many nights … If you do that, you give yourself a chance.”

The coach didn’t have an update on Leason’s status after the game. He said that he and his coaching staff expect to know more on Thursday.

The Raiders (30-25-9-2) are off from play until Friday evening; they host the Moose Jaw Warriors (49-14-1-2) at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. Then on Saturday, they host the Calgary Hitmen (20-36-8-2), same time and same place.