Raiders looking to keep playoff hopes alive with pair of road games this weekend

The Prince Albert Raiders kick off a three game road trip on Friday night in Saskatoon. --Kyle Kosowan/Daily Herald

With four games remaining in the regular season, the Prince Albert Raiders can hardly afford to lose another game. Sitting two points back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, they’ll look to make a move up the standings with games in Saskatoon and Regina this weekend.

“We’re all locked in here with four games left,” Raider captain Reece Vitelli said before the team’s practice on Wednesday. “They are all going to be crucial games and we have to get some wins. The playoff push is on now, and it’s going to be fun.”

With 57 points on the year so far, the Raiders have two games in hand on the Swift Current Broncos, who are currently holding onto the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The two teams will square off on April 15 in Swift Current’s regular season finale.

However, between the Raiders and Broncos are the Calgary Hitmen. One point ahead of Prince Albert, Calgary has a slight upper hand, as they also have four games left in their season. While it seems like the regular season is going to come down to the wire, Vitelli says the team is still confident in their chances of sneaking into the playoffs.

“We’re coming off of a big win against Regina on Saturday,” he said. “It’s nice to get a win against a team that’s trying to get in the same position as you. It gives us a lot of confidence going into the weekend, and it should be a good one on Friday in Saskatoon.

“We just have to take it one game at a time. We’re focusing on Friday and not worrying about Saturday’s game yet. We’re focusing on playing our way and just doing what we can. Saskatoon is a good team and playing in their building, we’ll have to be ready to go.”

While the Raiders are fighting to punch their ticket into the playoffs, the Blades are grappling for their own position in the first round. Sitting fifth in the standings with 76 points, they’re just one point back of the Moose Jaw Warriors for fourth place. While they’re fighting for home ice advantage in the first round, Saskatoon is also keeping an eye on the rear view mirror, where the Brandon Wheat Kings are slowly creeping up.

Winners of three straight contests, the Wheaties find themselves just five points back of the Blades, and also hold three games in hand. While a lot can still happen in regards to playoff seeding, the Blades will want to control their own destiny as much as they can, and they will want to pull off a win against Prince Albert on Friday to get some breathing room. The Raiders on the other hand will be looking to throw a wrench into their plans, and pull off somewhat of an upset win on the road.

But they’ll have to do it without Ozzy Wiesblatt. Over the weekend, the team announced that Wiesblatt will miss the remainder of the season and head to San Jose, where he will be further evaluated for an upper body injury. Vitelli says the absence of Wiesblatt hurts, but it has made the team come together to make up for the hole left in the offense.

“He’s been a Raider his whole WHL career and it’s tough to see that happen to him,” Vitelli said. “He’s been a great teammate to me over these past three years and he’s just a great guy and obviously an amazing player. It’s tough to see him go for the rest of the year, but we have a job to do still. We’re a tight group in there, and we know what we still have to do. There’s a lot of belief in the room.”

Puck drop in Saskatoon on Friday is at 7 p.m.