Led by their captain and a multi-goal night from forward Cole Fonstad, the Prince Albert Raiders bested the Moose Jaw Warriors 5-4 Sunday to win Game 6 in the teams’ best-of-seven Western Hockey League quarterfinal playoff series.
It’s the Raiders’ second-straight win against the Warriors, evening the series at three games apiece; each team is faced with a Game 7 elimination match, set for Tuesday night in Moose Jaw.
Perhaps gaining a measure of revenge for a tricky no-goal call against him in Game 4, Fonstad opened and closed the scoring on Sunday, including the game-winning goal in the third period.
His first-period score was a near-identical match to his disallowed goal last Wednesday, except that it counted: Team captain Curtis Miske fired a shot on Warriors goalie Brody Willms from his left side, Willms directed the rebound in front of him to the slot and Fonstad pounded the puck into the open net.
But unlike the Raiders’ 5-1 trouncing of the Warriors on Saturday, Moose Jaw gave P.A. a strong dose of adversity: They tied the game twice and snatched the lead away from P.A. in the second period.
In the frame’s final five minutes and down 2-1, Warriors forwards Brayden Burke and Jayden Halbgewachs combined for back-to-back goals 1:59 apart to take a 3-2 lead on the Raiders.
The Raiders didn’t go away; they continued pressing the Warriors in the neutral zone for turnovers, and it paid off.
“We never quit. We were down there in the second, and Misk (Miske) – I guess that’s why he’s our captain – he led the way tonight, and he picked us up tonight every time we were down,” Fonstad said.
After creating a turnover in the neutral zone, the P.A. captain skated in on Willms’ right side and fired a shot at the goalie from the high faceoff circle. Willms stopped the shot and left a rebound in front of his crease.
Miske kept skating, grabbed the puck and passed it to a waiting Sean Montgomery on the other side of the crease. Montgomery tapped the puck into the open net.
Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid underscored the goal’s importance.
“We deserved to win; we dominated the game. Our energy was good. We faced some adversity; they came back in the second. I thought that 3-3 goal late in the (second) was huge.”
Moose Jaw contended with P.A. in the final period, but the home team looked to carry most of the momentum.
Regan Nagy put the Raiders ahead 4-3 with a power play goal early in the period, then Warriors captain Brett Howden tied the game less than four minutes later, also on the power play.
Both teams kept grinding over the next six minutes; Moose Jaw continued with its long, stretch passes to try to gain scoring chances, while P.A. kept on its heavy forecheck systems to foil the Warriors’ attempts.
Towards the mid-point of the third period, the Raiders’ forecheck in the Warriors’ zone paid off, thanks to Miske creating another turnover and centreman Jordy Stallard making a deft pass to Fonstad.
After receiving a pass from Miske, Stallard worked his way through Moose Jaw’s zone into Willms’ left faceoff circle.
The centreman kept waiting, and when a clear pass opened, he made it right onto Fonstad’s stick, allowing the forward to tap the puck into the net for the go-ahead goal.
Like they’d done throughout the game, the Raiders fans erupted into booming cheers.
“We just decided to throw as many pucks and bodies to the net as we can … we need that many goals to win, and that’s good – it’s a good game for us,” Miske said of his team’s forecheck and second-chance shots.
He also commended Raiders goalie Ian Scott.
Even though he allowed four goals on 20 Moose Jaw shots, Scott made at least three key saves that kept the Raiders in the game: “That slide-across save was huge. I think that changed momentum for us … he’s been keeping us in every single game. We’ve been scoring goals, but (Scott’s) been stopping them, and he’s been a huge part of our success so far.”
Willms stopped 27 of the 32 Raiders’ shots he faced.
Along with his three assists in the game, Miske also had a goal for the Raiders.
Burke’s second-period goal was his second of the game: He beat Scott towards the end of the first period.
The Raiders and Warriors are now set for a Game 7 elimination match Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Moose Jaw. The winner of that game will win the series and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinal round to play either the Swift Current Broncos or the Regina Pats.
“We’ve been do-or-die for the last two months,” Habscheid said. “We had to win 9 in a row to get into the playoffs. We’ve been in playoff mode for quite some time. That’s a hardened group in there, and they’re not gonna quit.
“We don’t know what’s gonna happen in Game 7. But it’s one shot and we like our chances.”
Looking ahead to that game, Warriors head coach Tim Hunter said that having home-ice advantage will be a boost to his club.
“We play like we did tonight on home-ice on Tuesday, then we’ll win the hockey game,” he said.