The Prince Albert Raiders put up a strong fight against the East Division leading Winnipeg ICE, but fell short, losing 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday night at the Art Hauser Centre. Tikhon Chaika made 39 saves in the loss, but kept the Raiders in the game with a number of highlight reel saves. The single point in the loss brought the Raiders back to within two points of the Swift Current Broncos for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It was a hard game, and you can tell (Winnipeg) doesn’t take us lightly,” head coach Marc Habscheid said postgame. “We got a point, that’s what we’re looking for. Our guys played hard. We had good team defence, and Chaika played good. All in all, we played a pretty good game.”
Reece Vitelli broke the scoreless tie 6:26 into the first period, leading an odd man rush up the left wing. Slipping past a check near the blue line, the Raider captain gained entry into the offensive zone. Cutting into the slot, he kept the puck and sniped a shot top corner over Daniel Hauser. Vitelli’s team leading 23rd goal of the season gave the Raiders an early 1-0 lead.
“I just tried to beat my guy, and I saw it was a forward so I cut to the middle,” Vitelli said. “I was able to get around him, and just picked the corner and it went in.”
It took 3:20 into the second period to find the game’s next goal. The ICE got a very friendly bounce off the end boards on a dump in by Cole Muir, and tied things up shortly after. The puck came out in front of the net, where it was picked up by Jakin Smallwood. Making a quick touch pass, it came back to Muir, who was right on the doorstep to tap a shot in. Another quick goal to start a period worked in Winnipeg’s favour this time, as they tied the game at 1-1.
With 8:25 left in the middle frame, the ICE took their first lead of the contest. From the half wall, Muir sent a weak pass to the left circle. With no Raiders around to intercept the feed, the puck found Alessandro Segafredo’s stick. Segafredo stepped into a booming slapshot that overpowered Tikhon Chaika on the glove side. The rookie’s fifth goal of the season gave Winnipeg a 2-1 lead.
Chaika was tested with 18 shots in the second period and did his best to keep the Raiders in the game, as they headed into the third period trailing by just one.
A two on one rush for the Raiders in the third led to the game’s tying goal, as Sloan Stanick connected with Vlad Shilo. Skating up the left wing, Stanick sauced a pass over the lone ICE defender, right to the tape of Shilo. From there, the Raider rookie was able to one time a shot over a diving Hauser. His sixth goal of the season was one of his biggest all year, as he made it a 2-2 tie.
“We just wanted to keep taking it to them,” Raider defenceman Nolan Allan said about their approach to the third period. “We wanted to stick to our gameplan and be physical, drive to the net and get in the goalie’s head. We wanted to keep throwing pucks on net, and anything can happen.”
Outshooting the ICE 8-6 in the final regulation frame, the Raiders were able to keep Winnipeg off the scoreboard. The two teams would need overtime to find a winner for the second straight meeting.
Zach Benson nearly ended the game in overtime on a highlight reel try. In the Raider zone, the ICE forward made a nifty move past a defender, and took a shot between the legs that just sailed over the net. Milne nearly ended the game on another chance for Winnipeg in overtime, but Chaika made a nice sliding save on a redirected shot, keeping the Raiders alive.
However with 16 seconds to go, Chaika and the Raiders’ luck ran out, as Jack Finley iced the game for Winnipeg. Taking a centering pass from Connor McClennon, Finley showed outstanding patience in front, stickhandling the puck for a few seconds before backhanding a shot home five hole past Chaika. The late goal sent Prince Albert packing, as the ICE took the game by a 3-2 final. Hauser stopped 25 of 27 Raider shots thrown his way in the win.
Habscheid stepped up and took a lot of the blame after the game, saying he didn’t like how he managed the bench.
“I thought I didn’t do a very good job tonight, my bench management wasn’t very good,” he said. “I could’ve helped out the guys some more. Especially in the first period, I thought I could’ve done a better job with the lines.”
The Raiders and ICE will square off twice more this week, with a pair of games in Winnipeg on Saturday and Sunday.
Prince Albert heads to Brandon on Friday night for a date with the Wheat Kings.
Eastern Conference Playoff Hunt
With the single point in the overtime loss, the Raiders now have 53 on the season. That moves them to just two points back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, held by the Broncos, who beat the Regina Pats 5-3 on Tuesday. The Pats are currently on the outside looking in with 51 points.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes are still holding onto the seventh seed with 56 points. They had Tuesday night off. They have a tough matchup ahead of them on Friday night when they host the Edmonton Oil Kings.