Raiders bend, don’t break in Game 1 victory

Photo by Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald. Krzysztof Macias of the Prince Albert Raiders handles the puck while being pursued by a Saskatoon defender during WHL playoff action at the SaskTel Centre on Thursday night.

The Prince Albert Raiders won the first battle, but the war is far from over as they defeated the Saskatoon Blades 4-3 at the SaskTel Centre on Thursday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first round playoff series.

Raider head coach Jeff Truitt says it took a while for the Raiders to settle into the game.

“Being down two, you have to generate some offense somewhere. We were creating some turnovers and uncharacteristic plays but once we got the traction going, we got pucks in the net, big power play goal and then we get up 3-2 and we get that other one and get a little daylight. We knew they were going to come back, they are too good of a team (not to).” 

After a failed clear attempt by Prince Albert on a Blade power play, Saskatoon would strike first at the 19:39 mark. Egor Sidorov would strike for his first of the series with Trevor Wong and Tanner Molendyk picking up the helpers.

Alexander Suzdalev would strike with an unassisted goal, his first of the series, just fifty-nine seconds into the second period to double the Saskatoon lead.

Sloan Stanick was called for a high sticking minor on Suzdalev during the play and the Raiders would head to the penalty kill. In a moment where the game could have gone off the rails for Prince Albert, the Raiders successfully killed the penalty and gained some traction.

“For a young group, they kept it together pretty well.” Truitt says. “You go into these playoff series is thinking that you can’t have the highs and lows and no matter what happens You know, you’re being down to nothing and the guy stuck with it And then even when we got up it was you know the even keel and that’s what you need this time here 

The Raiders would pull within one thanks to Aiden Oiring at the 8:41 mark of the middle frame. On a transition, the Raider centreman would deposit his first goal of the postseason with a wrist shot that would beat Blade netminder Austin Elliott high blocker side. Oli Chnier and Eric Johnston assisted on the play.

Easton Kovacs would tie the game at the 10:53 mark with his first career playoff goal. Luke Moroz and Grady Martin picked up the helpers.

After a too many men penalty against Saskatoon, the Raiders would take their first lead of the night against the WHL’s top ranked penalty kill unit during the regular season. Ryder Ritchie would strike for his first career postseason goal at the 14:19 mark. Sloan Stanick and Niall Crocker provided the helpers.

Niall Crocker would double the Raider lead with a power play marker at the 8:13 mark of the third period. A shot from Ryder Ritchie would hit Austin Elliott in the mask and Crocker would deflect the puck out of mid-air and past the Saskatoon netminder. Justice Christensen picked up the secondary helper.

Prince Albert would finish the night two for three on the power play. 

Truitt says the Raiders did a good job at moving the puck against a Saskatoon unit that likes to pressure the puck handler.

“I like the shot selection and the traffic in front of the net as well. Crocker had that one there and that’s what you need. They’re an aggressive penalty killing unit. You’ve got to move the pucks quickly to open places. You’ve got to do something with it and when you get that shot mentality going, you have to get it away quick and that’s key too.”

Sidorov would bring the Blades within one at the 16:45 mark of the third period with his second of the night. Charlie Wright and Trevor Wong provided the helpers.

The Blades would press for the equalizer, but Max Hildebrand stood tall making 41 saves on the evening to earn the Game 1 victory. Austin Elliott made 16 saves for the Blades

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Friday night at the SaskTel Centre. Puck drops at 7 p.m. The series shifts back to Prince Albert for Game 3 on Tuesday night.