Blades edge Raiders to end regular season

Prince Albert Raiders forward Curtis Miske (18) corrals and carries the puck while Saskatoon Blades forward Chase Wouters (44) tries to catch him during the teams' WHL game on March 16 from P.A. -- Terran Station/Fragment Media

The Saskatoon Blades rode a three-goal first period and a hat-trick from Max Gerlach to edge the Prince Albert Raiders 5-4 Saturday night, ending 2017-18 regular season play for both Western Hockey League clubs.

The win means the Blades swept the home-and-home series against the Raiders, after Saskatoon beat Prince Albert 2-1 in a fight-filled Friday night game.

Gerlach accounted for two of those three first-period goals on Saturday, with his team going up 3-1 after 20 minutes of play. Mark Rubinchik had the other goal for the Blades.

Spencer Moe scored at 16:45 of the period, after Sean Montgomery set him up for the score.

The Blades held the Raiders off the score board in the second, while Gerlach notched his hat-trick, putting the Blades up 4-1 on a power play goal. Saskatoon goalie Tyler Brown also made some key saves in the game to keep his team ahead.

In the third period, the Raiders came to life, according to head coach Marc Habscheid.

“The first two periods we weren’t happy, because we weren’t engaged in the game, but in the third period we were. And that’s what we were looking for.”

Raiders captain Curtis Miske cut the Blades’ lead in half at 10:46 with an even-strength score.

Just under seven minutes later, Blades captain Evan Fiala appeared to put the game to bed by scoring an empty-net goal at 17:09.

But Raiders defenceman Sergei Sapego had other plans. He scored back-to-back goals at 18:12 and 19:19 to pull his team within a score.

Habscheid agreed that his team’s comeback push was indicative of its engagement in the third period.

“We were out four pretty good players, but we still wanted to be engaged and be emotionally attached to the game … I didn’t think we were really that way in the first two periods. And then in the third we were, and that’s what we were looking for.”

The game ended with the Blades winning 5-4.

“Even though we didn’t get the win, we were engaged the way we wanted to be heading into the playoffs. So it ends on a positive note,” he said.

Affiliate players Adam Herold and Cohner Saleski were called up to join the Raiders for the game; Herold was paired with Sapego for his third WHL game this season, while Saskatonian Saleski played his first WHL game in his hometown.

Defencemen Vojtech Budik and Brayden Pachal were given the night off, while Brett Leason remains sidelined with a day-to-day upper body injury. Parker Kelly was out of the lineup to serve a one-game suspension.

The loss in Saskatoon extends the Raiders’ winless drought there; the last time the team has won a game in the SaskTel Centre was in 2014.

P.A. ends its regular season with a 32-27-9-4 record, for 77 total points. Last season, the team finished out of a playoff spot with a 21-44-5-2 record, falling one point shy of 50.

The Blades finish their year with a 35-33-3-1 record. They last qualified for the playoffs in the 2012-13 season.

The Raiders now prepare for the postseason, where they’ll face the Moose Jaw Warriors in the opening round.

Watch the Daily Herald for a preview, full schedule and coverage of the round 1 playoff series.

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