Raiders beat up on Blades with 5-2 victory

Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Zach Hayes (right) wrestles Jake Kustra of the Saskatoon Blades to the ice during a third period fight at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday. Hayes and the Raiders would go on to beat Kustra and the Blades 5-2, and pull within one point of the Eastern Conference’s final wildcard spot. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald.

Parker Kelly relishes these types of games.

The Raiders forward made his presence felt early and often with a pair of first period goals, as Prince Albert downed the rival Saskatoon Blades 5-2 at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday.

Although it was his first two-goal night since October, Kelly didn’t hesitate to turn his attention away from personal exploits and on to the standings.

“That was a really big game for us,” he said afterwards. “It was probably our most important game of the year. I’m glad we got it and now we’re one point back (of Saskatoon.) We’re climbing the ladder, slowly.”

Kelly, Brett Leason, Curtis Miske and Cole Fonstad all tallied for the Raiders, who moved within striking distance of their southern rivals with Friday’s victory.

Coach Marc Habscheid credited his team for jumping on the Blades early, and staying aggressive throughout the game.

“All in all we didn’t give them all that much,” the Raiders bench boss said. “In the first period if we would have cashed in on even half our changes, it could have been more of a runaway, but I thought we were good. I thought maybe in the second period they had a bit of a push. That 3-1 goal really helped out, then we got our legs under us and away we went.”

Kelly got the Raiders on the board less than two minutes into the opening period, when he took a Kody McDonald feed and beat Saskatoon Blades starting goalie Nolan Maier five-hole to make it 1-0.

The Raider forward struck again a little more than 10 minutes later, this time off a pass from Brayden Pachal.

“Donny (Kody McDonald) had another good screen and (Pachal) gave me a good pass and I just had a wide-open net,” Kelly said of the second goal. “(Maier) didn’t even know where I was.”

“He’s a winner,” Habscheid said when asked about Kelly’s two-goal night. “He loves games like this, and it’s just a sign of why he’s so important.”

The Blades cut the Raider lead in half near the end of the period. Logan Christensen potted his first of the season, with the lone assist to Jackson Caller to make it 2-1 after one.

The Raiders broke things open midway through the second when Brett Leason converted on a 2-0 break with Cole Fonstad to make it 3-1. Raider captain Curtis Miske added to the lead less than two minutes later when he tipped in a point shot to make it 4-1.

Eric Florchuk got one back for the Blades around the 14 minutes mark, but that was as close as the visitors got. Fonstad added some insurance on the power play at 16:43 of the second, allowing the Raiders to cruise to victory.

“We wanted to keep being aggressive on them and keep playing the period in there end,” Habscheid said. “We didn’t want to change too much (in the third.) We didn’t want to give them free looks.”

“It’s a big relief off our shoulders,” Kelly added. “We kind of had trouble with (Saskatoon) all year, but I think that was a great game by everyone. That was winning hockey for sure.”

Ian Scott stopped 19 of the 21 shots he faced to earn win number 15 on the season. The victory gives Prince Albert a 21-20-8-2 record, and a boost of confidence as they head into a Saturday night contest with the Regina Pats. The Pats beat the Raiders 4-3 during the last meeting between the two teams on Jan. 17, and will look to extend their five-point lead over Prince Albert in the three team dog fight for the Eastern Conference’s two wildcard playoff spots.

Maier made 34 saves for the Blades in a losing cause. They fall to 25-25-2-1 on the year, and sit only one point up on Prince Albert. The Raiders have two games in hand on both Regina and Saskatoon.

Prince Albert’s next home game is on Wednesday, Feb. 7 when they take on the Kootenay Ice at the Art Hauser Centre. Puck drop is 7 p.m.

@kerr_jas •