They’re in: Raiders qualify for WHL playoffs

Prince Albert Raiders forward Brett Leason celebrates his second-period, short-handed goal as he high-fives his teammates while playing against the Kootenay Ice in WHL action from Prince Albert on Jan. 5, 2017. -- Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The Prince Albert Raiders are headed for the postseason.

They received the news Tuesday night, via a loss by their Western Hockey League rivals down Highway 11, the Saskatoon Blades.

While the Raiders played to a 2-1 shootout loss in Moose Jaw against the Warriors, the Blades were defeated 5-3 by the Brandon Wheat Kings over in Manitoba.

The Blades’ loss eliminates the team from playoff contention and allows the Raiders to claim one of two wildcard playoff spots in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.

P.A. and Brandon will battle it out over who secures the conference’s first and second wildcard playoff spots, which will also determine who their first round playoff opponents will be.

The team that finishes in the second wildcard playoff spot will face the first-place Warriors in the first round. (With their win on Tuesday, the Warriors clinched the league’s East Division title.)

The team that finishes in the first wildcard playoff spot will crossover to the WHL’s Central Division to play the first-place Medicine Hat Tigers.

After Tuesday’s game, Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid spoke of the possibility of playing the Warriors in the postseason.

“It’s not for sure … but a pretty good chance. And we’ve beaten them; we understand they have the most points in the league, we get that.

“But we feel we’ve beaten them before, and if we play them in the playoffs, we’re certainly not coming in to lose, that’s for sure,” he said.

Through eight meetings against the Warriors this season, the Raiders have beat them three times – twice in regulation and once in a shootout. The Warriors’ five wins against the Raiders have been in regulation time (four times) and a shootout (once, on Tuesday night).

Looking to the postseason and the news that the Raiders qualified, Habscheid spoke of his team’s adversity.

“We’re proud of the guys. At the beginning of the season, everyone picked us to be last in the conference, so the guys didn’t believe it. And they faced a lot of adversity along the way.

“We had that odyssey (B.C. and U.S. road trip), and kept our heads above water and downed (teams). They just kept fighting and battling, and we’re proud of the guys to get into the playoffs.”

Habscheid also underscored his players’ drive.

“We told them they’re in the playoffs, and they really weren’t excited; they want more. And that’s a great sign. They’re not happy with just being in the playoffs; they want more and that’s great,” he said.

The Raiders (32-25-9-3) have one game in hand over the Wheat Kings (38-27-3-2); P.A. has three regular season games remaining (Regina and Saskatoon twice), while Brandon has two games remaining (Moose Jaw twice).

The Raiders have 76 points and the Wheat Kings have 81 points.

To overtake Brandon for the first wildcard spot, the Raiders must win their three remaining games and the Wheat Kings must lose both games against Moose Jaw.