An impressive showing on home ice has the Prince Albert Raiders on the verge of becoming the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference champions.
Aliaksei Protas’ first career WHL hat trick and the third shutout of the playoffs by Ian Scott were the difference makers Friday at the Art Hauser Centre as the Raiders picked up a 4-0 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings and have a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven affair as the two sides prepare for a 2 p.m. tilt at Rogers Place Sunday.
“Everyone was going from top to bottom tonight,” said Raiders forward Brett Leason, who had a goal and an assist in Friday’s triumph. “The crowd got us going right away and we just kept rolling after we got that early power play goal.
“It’s great to get the win, but now we have to refocus ahead of our trip to Edmonton on Sunday.”
Protas, whose only other multi-goal game this season came in Game 2 of the opening round matchup with the Red Deer Rebels, found the back of the net twice in the opening frame and sent the hats and cowbells flying from the stands with another goal in the final minute of regulation.
“It’s the biggest night of my career and the fans made it unforgettable,” Protas said.
“We’ve taken back the series lead and everybody’s happy. Now we just need to keep things going by being physical and fast.”
Parker Kelly helped to lead the physicality for the Raiders with a number of hits in the opening minutes, including one that turned Oil Kings blueliner Parker Gavlas inside out.
“That’s something I like do to in every game as it gives us some energy and helps me to create chances for my linemates,” Kelly said. “If I’m not doing that, I feel like I’m just going through the motions.”
“He was flying out there but he just couldn’t hit the open net,” head coach Marc Habscheid joked as he referenced a play in the third period where Kelly hit the post after a feed from Justin Nachbaur. “I felt bad for him on that one as this was probably his best game of the playoffs and it would have been nice to see him get rewarded.”
Blueliners Sergei Sapego and Kaiden Guhle had a pair of helpers in the win while Scott’s 24-save performance moved him into a tie with Stephen Dhillon of the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara IceDogs and Samuel Harvey of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies for the most shutouts in the Canadian Hockey League playoffs.
“There were great performances all throughout our lineup tonight,” Habscheid said. “A lot of that has to do with our speed, which wasn’t there early in the series but now we got that jump back.
“With that said, we’re only up by one game in the series. We still have to win one more game so we’re not going to get too excited about it (the win).”
Dylan Myskiw did a great job of keeping his team in the contest with a 26-save outing, as the Oil Kings suffered back-to-back losses for the first time since early January.
“We weren’t ourselves today and we didn’t play our game,” Oil Kings defenceman Matthew Robertson said. “We handed their goals to them and we didn’t come ready to play.
“We need to come out way better than we did today. It was embarrassing.”
If the Oil Kings can stave off elimination on home ice Sunday, a seventh and deciding game would be held at the Art Hauser Centre at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The Vancouver Giants will await the winner in the league final as they captured the Western Conference title in five games over the Spokane Chiefs Friday night.
This marks the fifth time that the Raiders have found themselves a win away from reaching the WHL final since they won the Memorial Cup in 1985.
They lost in seven games in the semfinal round to the Medicine Hat Tigers in 1986, the Lethbridge Hurricanes in 1990 and the Brandon Wheat Kings in 1995 and 2005.
Protas is the third Raiders player to record a hat-trick in the playoffs, as Sean Montgomery and Dante Hannoun accomplished that feat against the Saskatoon Blades.
The last import player to score three goals in a WHL playoff game was Egor Babenko in a 5-2 win for the Lethbridge Hurricanes against the Red Deer Rebels on March 26, 2017.
Loeden Schaufler and Cole Nagy did not dress for the Raiders, while the Oil Kings scratched Logan Dowhaniuk, Jacson Alexander, Aidan Lawson, Keagan Slaney, Dylan Guenther, Jalen Luypen and Zach Russell.
- Vancouver 3 Spokane 2 (Vancouver wins 4-1 and advances to first WHL final since 2007 – Bowen Byram – One Goal and One Assist)
- Guelph 4 Saginaw 0 (Saginaw leads 3-2 – Dmitri Samorukov – Three Goals and One Assist – First Career Playoff Hat Trick – Anthony Popovich – 20 Saves – Second Playoff Shutout)
- Drummondville 6 Halifax 2 (Halifax leads 3-2 – Pierre-Olivier Joseph – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Drummondville vs. Halifax (Game 6) – 11 a.m.
- Saginaw vs. Guelph (Game 6) – 12 p.m.
- Prince Albert vs. Edmonton (Game 6) – 2 p.m.