Raiders win first playoff series since 2005

Byron Hackett/Red Deer Advocate Ozzy Wiesblatt celebrates his second period goal for the Prince Albert Raiders during their 4-1 win over the Red Deer Rebels Wednesday.

The longest playoff series win drought in the Canadian Hockey League is over.

With a 4-1 victory Wednesday at the Westerner Park Centrium, the Prince Albert Raiders completed a sweep of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series with the Red Deer Rebels and are among the final eight teams in the Western Hockey League playoffs for the first time since a run to the semifinal round in 2005.

“I’m happy for the guys, the city and the organization,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “It’s been a while and that (playoff drought) has been hanging around us, but now that’s gone and the guys can just play.

“We’re going to get some rest here before the next series. We’re looking forward to it.”

After serving a one-game suspension Tuesday, Brett Leason made a big impact in his return to the Raiders lineup as he scored twice in the third period.

He banged away at a loose puck in the crease to break a 1-1 tie just 58 seconds into the final frame and would later roof a backhander over Ethan Anders on a power play with 8:33 to go.

“It feels good,” Leason said. “They (Red Deer) made a big push to keep their season going and we just stuck with what we were doing.

“Everyone wants to get a sweep in a playoff series but Red Deer brought it to us in all four games. We needed to play quick and physical playoff hockey in order to beat them.”

After Rebels overager Jeff de Wit converted a feed from Brandon Hagel to give the hosts a lead late in the opening frame, the Raiders tied the game up at the 9:08 mark of the second as rookie Ozzy Wiesblatt scored his third goal of the series.

“That got all of us going,” Leason said. “It allowed us to really push it to them a bit as we finished off the game.”

“He’s 16 but he doesn’t play like it,” Habscheid added. “He gets involved in front of the net and takes the hits, which is what you need to do in order to score goals.”

Cole Fonstad put the wraps on a three-point night late in regulation as he took advantage of a turnover by Dawson Barteaux for an empty net goal.

Ian Scott made 21 saves for the Raiders, while Anders stopped 31 shots for a Rebels side that finished off the season with eight straight losses.

“They pushed during this series, which is what we needed,” Habscheid said.

“We were tip-toeing around a little bit at the start tonight but I thought we were better as the game went on. As they started to push the pace we needed to get more involved physically, and we did that.”

Next up for the Raiders is a matchup with the rival Saskatoon Blades, who completed a clean sweep of the Moose Jaw Warriors Wednesday night.

“The biggest thing for us right now is to get some rest,” Habscheid said. “It’s a long grind and it’s important to have a couple of days away from the rink before we start winding things up again.”

This will mark the first time that the Raiders and Blades have squared off in the post-season since Saskatoon won a six-game opening round matchup in 2011, which was their last playoff series triumph prior to Wednesday.

The dates for the seven-game matchup have yet to be announced.

Post-Game Notes

With the Raiders victory on Wednesday, the longest playoff series win drought in the Canadian Hockey League belongs to the Prince George Cougars, who haven’t won a seven-game matchup since going to the Western Conference final in 2007.

This was also the first series sweep for the Raiders since they beat the Blades in four straight games in the opening round of the 2005 playoffs.

The Raiders and Rebels now have a series win apiece in their head-to-head playoff history, as Red Deer swept aside Prince Albert in the 2013 Eastern Conference quarter-final.

Noah Gregor and Dante Hannoun led the Raiders in scoring during the four-game affair with five points, while Brandon Hagel posted six points for the Rebels.

Wednesday’s loss ended the junior careers of Hagel, Jeff de Wit and Reese Johnson, as they will age out of the WHL.

Alexander Alexeyev, who missed the entire series due to a knee injury, is also expected to leave the Rebels after this season as the Russian blueliner is a signed prospect of the Washington Capitals.

Alexeyev, Kyle Masters, Hunter Donohoe, Jordan Borysiuk, Blake Sydlowski and Ethan Rowland did not dress for Wednesday’s contest, while Loeden Schaufler was the lone scratch for the Raiders.

Wednesday’s Scores

  • Saskatoon 4 Moose Jaw 3 (Saskatoon wins 4-0 and will play Prince Albert in the quarter-final round – Kristian Roykas Marthinsen Overtime Winner – Adam Evanoff – 44 Saves)
  • Edmonton 5 Medicine Hat 1 (Series tied 2-2 – Vince Loschiavo – Two Goals and One Assist)
  • Spokane 4 Portland 3 (Spokane leads 3-1 – Adam Beckman Overtime Winner – Jake McGrew – Two Assists)
  • Kamloops 6 Victoria 3 (Series tied 2-2 – Connor Zary – Two Goals)
  • Seattle 4 Vancouver 3 (Series tied 2-2 – Thunderbirds erase a 3-0 deficit – Matthew Wedman – One Goal and One Assist)
  • Tri-City 3 Everett 2 (Everett leads 2-1 – Parker AuCoin Overtime Winner – Beck Warm – 39 Saves)

OHL

  • Ottawa 7 Hamilton 2 (Ottawa wins 4-0 – Quarter-Final Opponent TBD – Tye Felhaber – Two Assists)
  • Sudbury 4 Mississauga 1 (Sudbury wins 4-0 – Quarter-Final Opponent TBD – Peter Stratis – One Goal and One Assist)
  • Sault Ste. Marie 5 Owen Sound 2 (Sault Ste. Marie leads 3-1 – Morgan Frost – Two Goals and One Assist)

QMJHL

  • Moncton 3 Baie-Comeau 2 (Series tied 2-2 – Mika Cyr – Two Goals)
  • Cape Breton 6 Charlottetown 2 (Series tied 2-2 – Mitchell Balmas – One Goal and Three Assists)
  • Shawinigan 4 Rouyn-Noranda 3 (Series tied 2-2 – Justin Blanchette – 40 Saves)
  • Sherbrooke 6 Blainville-Boisbriand 2 (Sherbrooke leads 3-1 – Alex-Olivier Voyer – One Goal and Two Assists)
  • Val-d’Or 5 Victoriaville 3 (Series tied 2-2 – Julien Tessier – Two Goals)
  • Gatineau 4 Drummondville 2 (Drummondville leads 3-1 – Remi Poirier – 47 Saves)
  • Rimouski 6 Chicoutimi 3 (Rimouski wins 4-0 – Opponent TBD – Dmitry Zavgorodniy – Three Goals – First Career Playoff Hat Trick)

Thursday’s Schedule

QMJHL

  • Halifax vs. Quebec (Game 4) – 5 p.m.

OHL

  • Niagara vs. North Bay (Game 4) – 5 p.m.
  • Guelph vs. Kitchener (Game 4) – 5 p.m. (Airing nationally on Sportsnet 360)
  • Ottawa vs. Peterborough (Game 4) – 5 p.m.
  • London vs. Windsor (Game 4) – 5 p.m.
  • Saginaw vs. Sarnia (Game 4) – 5 p.m.

WHL

  • Lethbridge vs. Calgary (Game 4) – 7 p.m.
  • Everett vs. Tri-City (Game 4) – 8 p.m.