The final stretch: Raiders looking to clinch playoff spot this week

Herald File Photo. Raider forward Sloan Stanick handles the puck during WHL action at the Art Hauser Centre earlier this season.

With three games left in the regular season, there is one playoff spot still up for grabs in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and the Prince Albert Raiders are looking to take care of business and record an “X” next to their name in the standings.

The Raiders (30-30-2-3) currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference standings and sit three points ahead of the Calgary Hitmen (27-30-7-1).

Prince Albert currently finds themselves in the midst of a three game losing streak, falling to Swift Current, Regina and Brandon last week.

Raider head coach Jeff Truitt says the past week has been a learning experience for the team.

“We’ve worked 65 games here to get to a point where we can get something done. That’s just the first chapter in what we wanted to do. It’s within reach, you have to do a lot of little things the right way and get consistent in your game and do what it takes.

“A lot of these guys haven’t been in the playoffs in this league. It’s a whole new education for them and it’s not a matter of putting the pressure on us. It’s about putting the pressure on the other team and working second and third efforts here. We’ve got two games at home here (and) we feel good about playing at the Art Hauser Center. It’s been a work in progress. But it’s been an enjoyable work in progress because of the way that our guys have developed. Now we just got to finish the deal.”

The Raiders have three games on the ledger this week, hosting the Regina Pats (22-37-4-2) on Wednesday night and finishing the regular season with a home-and-home series with the Saskatoon Blades (47-13-2-3).

Prince Albert could secure a playoff spot as soon as Wednesday. In order to do so, the Raiders will need to defeat the Regina Pats in any fashion and the Calgary Hitmen must lose in regulation to the Saskatoon Blades at the SaskTel Centre.

Although the Pats are sitting well outside the playoff conversation at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, they knocked off the Raiders 5-2 at the Brandt Centre on Friday night.

Truitt says Prince Albert can’t take any opponent lightly at this time of year.

“It all starts with being prepared and ready to go. We’ve talked about the different scenarios and where we’re at. We can control (what) we can control. We’ve learned some hard lessons here over the last three games that you’ve got to bring that desperation every night here and capitalize on your opportunities in defending the right way. Playing hard is what we need to do, it’s not a matter of being fancy. It’s a matter of being responsible and making the right plays.”

Facing the Regina Pats always has special meaning for Raider overager Sloan Stanick, who began his WHL career with the Pats. Stanick was dealt to Prince Albert in an October 2021 deal that sent defenceman Adam McNutt to Regina.

“I always have a little bit of that extra jump in my step playing Regina.” Stanick says. “They’re definitely something that was special to me for a few years, but you also want to get a few on them when you play them. Everyone knows how big the game is coming up here, but we just got to focus on our game and control what we can control. Two points is what we need, and we’re going to go get it”

The last time the Raiders qualified for the postseason was back in the 2021-22 campaign and there has been plenty of turnover on the roster since. Stanick registered two goals and an assist in five games as the Raiders lost to the top-seeded Winnipeg ICE in the first round.

He says the Raiders are going to focus on playing their own game, but are looking forward to the challenge ahead of them.

“We all know how big and important it is. We want to play for our fans here and give them that little playoff push here. We just got to worry about our game and playoffs are a different animal, but we’re going to be really excited for it. You just got to go out there and just play. You always think about those games when you’re a little kid. (We) just got to go out and play and have a great time and experience.”

One area that the Raiders are looking to improve on down the stretch is special teams. During their current three game losing streak, the Raiders have only converted 1 of 11 opportunities on the man advantage and have gone 5 for 7 on the penalty kill.

Truitt says the Raiders have emphasized special teams as an area for improvement heading down the stretch.

“We’ve got to capitalize on our power play chances and be hard on the penalty kill. We talked about the details in our positioning and whatnot. We gave up a little bit too much room for them. We got out of position on one play. Yet on the other side offensively, we stayed outside quite a bit, not only in Regina, but also in Brandon. The goaltenders could make an easy play right now. It’s all about that inside game and those teams usually win.”

There were some new faces on the ice for the Raiders during practice this week. The season for the Northern Alberta Xtreme (NAX) and St. Albert U18 AAA Raiders have come to a close. Daxon Rudolph, Ryan Gower, Ty Meunier and Riley Boychuk were in Prince Albert to skate with the Raiders at practice on Tuesday. None of the four have been officially recalled to the team’s roster at the time of publishing.

With the Raiders in a playoff chase, Truitt says the four will learn what it takes to play in the WHL.

“It’s a huge education for them coming in and seeing when the fire is up, what it takes not only on the ice but off the ice, the details of the game right now. Just the environment that we’re in, I think is going to be a huge education for those guys, understanding what it takes to play in the Western Hockey League.”

Puck drops between the Raiders and Pats Wednesday night at the Art Hauser Centre at 7 p.m.