Great Wall of Chaika helps Raiders snap four game losing skid with win over Wheat Kings

Tikhon Chaika makes a pad save in the third period, one of 34 stops in a 2-1 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings on Wednesday night at the Art Hauser Centre. --Kyle Kosowan/Daily Herald

It was another lights out performance from Prince Albert goaltender Tikhon Chaika, as he made 34 saves as the Raiders beat the Brandon Wheat Kings 2-1 on Wednesday night at the Art Hauser Centre.

Carson Latimer scored twice for the Raiders in the win, as Prince Albert kept pace in the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoff picture.

“We have six games left now,” head coach Marc Habscheid said after the win. “I don’t think we got a lot of help on the out of town scoreboard, so a win is a win. When you don’t have a lot of games left and you have to make up a lot of ground, you need the points.”

Carson Latimer broke the ice 14:27 into the first period, capitalizing on a big rebound given up by Ethan Kruger. A long range shot by Evan Herman was kicked away by the Wheat Kings netminder, but the rebound came right out in front of the crease. Latimer came crashing in, and banged home the rebound low past Kruger to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead.

Brett Hyland nearly tied it for Brandon less than two minutes later on a breakaway chance. Working in on Chaika, Hyland made a move before finessing a one handed tuck try home. Chaika was able  to barely stretch his left pad out and make a toe save, and Prince Albert turned the puck back up the ice right after. Dallyn Peekeekoot got a hold of the puck in the Wheat Kings zone and had a chance to double the home side’s lead, but a windmill glove save by Kruger shut that down.

Vlad Shilo nearly put the Raiders up by two right off the ensuing offensive zone faceoff, but rang the far post after a shot from the right circle. The puck bounced right to Latimer who was waiting for the rebound in the left circle. He knocked it out of the air and fired the second chance home for his second of the night.

Prince Albert made good on their second chance opportunities in the early going of the game, going up 2-0 heading into the first intermission, while holding a 10-6 edge in the shot department.

“We put in a lot of hard work out there,” Latimer said. “It was nice to get up early. I think I’ve been getting to the dirty areas a bit more and getting around the paint. It’s just nice to contribute.”

After dominating the majority of the second period, the Wheat Kings made it a 2-1 game with 6:40 left in the middle frame on a lucky bounce in front of Chaika. A point shot from Charlie Elick took a deflection off of a Raider skate in the high slot and trickled off the left post and in.

Chaika, who had 18 saves up to that point, didn’t have much of a chance to react to the change of direction on the original shot. Elick, who was selected third overall in this year’s WHL Prospects Draft, scored his first goal in his fourth Western Hockey League game.

One goal was all the Wheaties could find in the second, as the Raider entered the third holding onto a 2-1 lead, now trailing in shots 24-20.

“I thought the second period was a little tilted in (Brandon’s) direction. They got an unfortunate goal but they probably deserved one in that period. I think we watched a little bit in that second period. There was a little bit of doubt that crept in, but you have to find a way to win and we did.”

The Raiders were able to shut down the Wheat Kings in the third period, thanks to some more Chaika magic, as Prince Albert held on for the 2-1 win. Kruger was impressive in goal for the Wheat Kings as well, as he turned aside 24 of 26 shots in the loss.

When asked how much the team is thinking about the playoffs and the WHL standings, Latimer said it’s hard to keep your eyes away from the other teams fighting to sneak into the final two playoff spots.

“It’s a tight race and the one thing we can do is control our own destiny,” he said. “I think that’s what we have to worry about. We can’t think other teams are going to lose, we have to try to win every game, because it’s super tight.”

Prince Albert and Brandon will battle in a rematch on Friday night at the Art Hauser Centre. Puck drop is at 7pm.

Around the WHL

To Habscheid’s earlier point, the Raiders did not get any help at all around the league. The Swift Current Broncos, Regina Pats, and Calgary Hitmen all won on Wednesday, leaving every team in the same position as when they entered Wednesday’s action. The only exception is the Lethbridge Hurricanes, who fell 6-4 to the Broncos. Swifty and Lethbridge swapped spots, with the Broncos taking possession of the seventh seed, and the ‘Canes falling to the eighth and final playoff spot.

The Raiders are three points behind Lethbridge as a result, and still four behind the Broncos. Prince Albert has a pair of games in hand on Swift Current, while Lethbridge has a game in hand on Prince Albert.

The Broncos and Raiders will square off one last time this season on April 15th. That game happens to be Swift Current’s regular season finale. That contest will be Prince Albert’s second last contest of the regular season, as they wrap it up the very next day at home, once again against the Wheat Kings.