The last two games of the 2018-19 campaign may have been the perfect warm-up for the Prince Albert Raiders ahead of their first round series with the Red Deer Rebels.
Following a 3-2 loss to the Saskatoon Blades in front of 9,188 fans at the SaskTel Centre Friday, the Raiders concluded the regular season with a 3-1 victory over their East Division rivals Saturday as a sell-out crowd of 3,289 made their way to the Art Hauser Centre.
“It was good for us to have these two games before the playoffs, especially after we had played three in a row against Swift Current last week,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said.
“There was some good intensity out there and a playoff atmosphere, especially here tonight. It’s what we needed ahead of next weekend.”
According to Raiders captain Brayden Pachal, the effort level that the Raiders brought forward was the biggest difference on Saturday, as they raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and never looked back.
“We were a little bit sluggish yesterday and we weren’t very good in the areas of the game that we need to be good at it if we want to score goals,” Pachal said.
“We battled a lot more out there tonight and that was probably the key to our success.”
It was the overage forwards that provided the offence in their final WHL regular season game, as Noah Gregor scored twice and Sean Montgomery also found the back of the net for the 54-10-2-2 Raiders.
Ian Scott was under four minutes away from tying Rejean Beauchemin for the most shutouts in Raiders history with 12, but Max Gerlach spoiled his clean sheet attempt by scoring his 42nd of the season.
Scott finished the evening with 24 saves, while Dorrin Luding got the start for the 45-15-8-0 Blades and stopped 29 shots.
Although the Blades saw their eight-game win streak come to an end Saturday, the team is excited about how they’ve played over the last two months as they prepare to take on the Moose Jaw Warriors in their first playoff appearance since 2013.
“We got three lines that have been scoring for us here lately and I think the depth that we have is similar to what the Raiders have as it gives the other team fits,” Blades forward Gary Haden said.
“It was a good weekend for us despite the loss tonight. You don’t want to be sputtering going into the playoffs and being in close games like this is huge. Hopefully, we can meet up with these guys in the second round.”
As for the Raiders, they are hoping for another great atmosphere at the Art Hauser Centre Friday at 7 p.m. when they open up their series with the Rebels.
“For us and the fans, I think tonight was a little taste of what’s to come when the playoffs start,” Pachal added.
Prior to the start of the post-season, the Raiders will be hosting their year-end banquet Monday at 6 p.m. in the Ches Leach Lounge.
Saturday’s Fan Appreciation Night saw a number of presentations prior to the opening face-off, with the main event seeing the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy being presented to the Raiders after they won the WHL regular season title for the first time since 1985.
The league also recognized Marc Habscheid for winning his 500th game as a coach earlier this season and gave the Raiders’ head of off-ice officials Gerry Bergen the WHL’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his involvement with the team since 1971.
Saturday’s triumph gave the Raiders a 6-2 advantage against the Blades this year and marked the first time that they have won the regular season series since they went 7-1 against them in the 2013-14 campaign.
Dante Hannoun and Justin Nachbaur were both scratched by the hosts on Saturday, as Cohner Saleski was called up to join the squad after his season with the Prince Albert Mintos ended last weekend.
Mintos captain Alex Ozar took the warm-ups for the Blades but ended up being the final scratch.
The visitors did not dress Randen Schmidt and Aiden De La Gorgendiere.
The final playoff spot in the 2019 WHL playoffs will be determined Tuesday night as the Kelowna Rockets will visit the Kamloops Blazers to see who will finish in third place in the BC Division and go up against the Victoria Royals in the first round.
After entering Saturday on 62 points, the Blazers scored three unanswered goals in the final five minutes to pick up a 4-2 road win over the Prince George Cougars.
Meanwhile, the Rockets had a 2-1 lead over the Vancouver Giants at home before Jadon Joseph tied things up with 33 seconds left to force overtime, but rookie Mark Liwiski proved to be the hero as he put home his 11th of the year to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive.
The Rockets are looking to make the post-season for the 12th straight year, while the Blazers are attempt to get back into the playoffs after missing out last season.
Tuesday’s tiebreaker game, which will be streamed for free on WHL Live, is the seventh in league history and the first since the Medicine Hat Tigers picked up a 6-4 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2016.
- Edmonton 6 Calgary 1 (Scott Atkinson – Two Goals – Edmonton wins their first Central Division title since 2014 and will play Medicine Hat in the first round)
- Brandon 5 Regina 4 (Luka Burzan Shootout Winner – Connor Gutenberg – One Goal and Three Assists)
- Moose Jaw 6 Swift Current 0 (Tristin Langan – Two Goals and One Assist – Brodan Salmond – 22 Saves – Second Shutout This Season and Fourth Career)
- Seattle 5 Portland 2 (Noah Philp – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Lethbridge 3 Medicine Hat 2 (Nick Henry – Two Goals – Lethbridge to play Calgary in the first round)
- Kamloops 4 Prince George 2 (Connor Zary – One Goals and Two Assists)
- Kelowna 3 Vancouver 2 (Mark Liwiski Overtime Winner – Alex Swetlikoff – One Goal and One Assist)
- Spokane 10 Tri-City 1 (Adam Beckman – Three Goals and One Assist – First Career Hat Trick)
- Everett 5 Victoria 1 (Martin Fasko-Rudas – Three Goals – First Career Hat Trick)
- Edmonton vs. Calgary – 2 p.m.
- Red Deer vs. Kootenay – 4 p.m. (The Ice’s final game in Cranbrook before moving to Winnipeg next season)
- Seattle vs. Portland – 6 p.m. (Portland needs to win to have home ice in their first round series against Spokane)