If the Prince Albert Raiders don’t win their next game, their playoff hopes will be dashed for 2022.

SUBMITTED PHOTO/DARREN STEINKE Prince Albert Raiders goaltender Tikhon Chaika makes a save behind a creen against the saskatoon blades on Friday, April 8.

While followers of the WHL will likely be taxing their mathematical skills regarding which team will get the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the story is simple for the Raiders as they head towards their final two regular season games. On Friday, the Raiders travel to Swift Current to take on the host Broncos (7 p.m., Innovation Credit Union i-Plex).
The Broncos sit in eighth place and currently hold the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with a 26-34-5-2 for 59 points in the standings. The Raiders are two points behind the Broncos with a 26-35-4-1 mark.
If the Raiders lose that Friday clash be it regulation or extra time, they will be eliminated from playoff contention. They need to win that Friday game to ensure their regular season finale on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre against the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings remains meaningful as far as the post-season race is concerned.
The convoluted race for that final playoff berth includes the 25-33-6-2 Calgary Hitmen, who are one point behind the Broncos, and the 26-35-4-1 Regina Pats, who are two points back of the Broncos.
Fate has been dealing cards as far as wins and losses are concerned that have kept the Raiders in the post-season race. The hand of fate might deliver the Raiders some more favours.
In their last two games, the Hitmen host the Red Deer Rebels, who sit third in the Eastern Conference with a 44-18-2-2 mark, on Wednesday night. In their final three games, the Regina Pats face the Winnipeg Ice, who have locked up first overall in the WHL with a 51-10-3-2 record, twice.
They go at it on Friday in the Manitoba capital. A head-to-head encounter between the Pats and Ice set for Winnipeg on Thursday has been postponed due to extreme weather conditions that are forecast for that area. No makeup date has been set.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, they’ve let some opportunities slip through their fingers that would have put them in a better spot as far as the race for the playoffs is concerned. Two of those missed opportunities happened this past weekend.
Last Friday, the Raiders were in Saskatoon taking on their archrivals in the Blades. The 4,802 spectators at the SaskTel Centre that night included a healthy contingent of Raiders supporters, who made their way to “The Bridge City” from “Hockey Town North.”
The Raiders were locked in a 0-0 tie with eight minutes remaining in the third period. The Blades scored twice in the final eight minutes of the third to pull out a 2-0 victory.
Blades star overage netminder Nolan Maier skated away with sole possession of the WHL career regular season goaltending wins record with 121 victories.
The Raiders were left to ponder what might have been had they been able to get two standings points from a game that was very winnable.
One night later, the Raiders were in Regina to take on the host Pats at the Brandt Centre. The Raiders outshot the host side 27-18 and found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-3 final score that included an empty-net goal.
Early in the third, the Raiders were down 3-2 when left-winger Keaton Sorensen hit the crossbar on a penalty shot. Had a break there gone the Raiders way, they likely could have been heading to overtime to get at least one standings point, but when the dust settled, the setback in Regina was another missed chance to get two standings points.
In eight games with the Pats, the Raiders pulled out two wins and got a point from an overtime setback. The overtime setback came on home ice on February 18, when the Raiders took a 4-3 lead into the third period before falling 5-4.
Had the Raiders split their eight encounters with the Pats, that development would have helped the Prince Albert side.
The Raiders also had to lament a 6-4 home setback on January 22 to the Medicine Hat Tigers, who will finish in the basement of the WHL.
Against the Blades, the Raiders also dropped a 3-2 overtime heartbreaker at home on March 11 and a tough regulation 3-2 setback on Dec. 17, 2021.
On Dec. 7, 2021, the Raiders lost a 5-4 overtime heartbreaker at home to the Broncos after erasing a 4-1 deficit to force a 4-4 tie and extra time.
The Raiders players and coaches have lot of opportunities to dwell on where they lost standings points that could have helped out now.
With that noted, they are still alive in the WHL playoff chase with two games to play. Now, they just need to find a way to do themselves a favour by getting a couple of wins.
Western Conference playoff race has drama too
The chase for the final post-season berths is a heated one in the WHL’s Western Conference as the regular season is now in its final five days.
While the Tigers are the only team currently eliminated from playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, the Tri-City Americans are the only Western Conference club that has been knocked out of the playoff chase.
Due to the Western Conference having 10 squads, a total of four teams are vying for the last three post-season positions. The Vancouver Giants (24-37-4) sit sixth overall in the Western Conference with 52 standings points.
The Spokane Chiefs sit seventh overall and the Prince George Cougars currently hold the final playoff position at eighth overall both one point back of the Giants with identical 23-38-4-1 records. The Chiefs sit ahead of the Cougars winning three out of the four head-to-head matches between the two sides.
The Victoria Royals (22-38-5-1) sit ninth overall two points behind the Giants and one point back of the Chiefs and Cougars.
The Giants have three games remain on their schedule, while the Chiefs, Cougars and Royals each have two games to play.
The Chiefs and Royals meet head-to-head on Friday and Saturday nights in Victoria to close their respective regular season schedules. At the moment, those two contests might prove to be the deciding factor on who gets into the post-season and who doesn’t.
Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at stankssermon.blogspot.com