Warriors hold 3-1 series lead after tight Wednesday win

Prince Albert Raiders forwards Cole Fonstad, left, and Kody McDonald, right, corral the puck while Moose Jaw Warriors captain Brett Howden tries to knock it free during the teams' WHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff game from P.A. on March 28, 2018, -- Terran Station/Fragment Media

Thanks to an effective combination of fast, physical play, a momentum swing generated by a disallowed goal and the dependable play of their goalie, the Moose Jaw Warriors beat the Prince Albert Raiders 2-0 Wednesday night in Western Hockey League playoff action from P.A.

The win gives the Warriors a 3-1 stranglehold lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

“Fourth game’s always the toughest,” Moose Jaw head coach Tim Hunter said. “They’re going to be more urgent and more desperate … And they were pretty desperate and urgent tonight. They played real hard, and it was a tough game.”

The Raiders and the Warriors skated to a scoreless draw through the first 20 minutes of play. While both teams looked engaged in the opening period, the Warriors took a more cautious approach, a point mentioned by Hunter.

His team came out with more jump and physicality to start the second period. Unlike previous games against the Raiders, the Warriors added a heavy, physical component to their speedy playing style.

It proved effective in matching the Raiders’ hard forechecking. The Warriors gained possession and puck-cycle time in the Raiders’ zone, which kept the home team in the defensive zone for large portions of the frame.

Eventually, the Warriors were rewarded for their work, courtesy of forward Justin Almeida.

After the Raiders tried to get the puck out of their zone, Warriors defenceman Josh Brook pinched at the blue line along the boards to keep his team in the offensive zone. He fed the puck to teammate Brayden Burke, still along the boards.

Burke waited a second and made a quick pass to a streaking Almeida, who got the puck in the mid-slot area. He fired a laser wrist shot past goalie Ian Scott’s blocker side to put his team up 1-0 at 16:03.

That was the only scoring for the next 14 minutes, until the mid-point of the third period, at 10:24.

Raiders forward Cole Fonstad scored the game-tying goal, after shooting in a rebound from goalie Brody Willms, which was generated by teammate Curtis Miske’s shot. The rebound bounced into the slot, where Fonstad shot it into the open net.

However, the goal was immediately disallowed by the official at Willms’ goal line. The official ruled that defenceman Max Martin had interfered with Willms and caused incidental contact, according to the public address announcer at the game.

The call was a blow to the momentum the Raiders generated from Fonstad’s goal; a rowdy contingent of Raiders fans turned their anger towards the referees, and the Raiders were left to find another way to crack a seemingly unshakable Willms.

The teams continued their play, with each one checking the other hard and generating scoring chances in the offensive zone.

Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid pulled Scott in the last minute of the game to gain an extra skater for more scoring chances. The Raiders came close, but ultimately they couldn’t crack the Warriors goalie. Burke eventually scored an empty net goal to ice the game and seal the 2-0 win for his side.

After the game, Habscheid expressed his disagreement with the call on the disallowed goal.

“We’re allowed to go to that crease, to go to the net. The blue paint’s his (Willms’) area. But we weren’t in the blue paint and didn’t impede his way. He tried to get over; he just kind of lost an edge and the goalie couldn’t get over,” the head coach said. “To make that call at that time, I don’t know. It’s a tough one.”

Habscheid appears to have a case, despite referees Jeff Ingram’s and Colin Watt’s decision.

The video reply of Fonstad’s disallowed goal, which is posted on whl.ca, shows that Martin made incidental (unintentional) contact on Willms’ left leg outside of the goal crease, where Willms had set up for Miske’s initial shot.

Martin drove the net for the shot from Miske, stopped as he approached Willms and was turned around by a Warriors defenceman, at which point his right leg contacted Willms’ left leg, both of which are outside of the goal’s crease.

It slowed down Willms and prevented him from immediately sliding over to his right side to stop Fonstad’s shot.

Under rule 69 in the WHL rulebook, which pertains to interference on the goalkeeper, the following paragraphs state:

“This rule is based on the premise that an attacking player’s position, whether inside or outside the crease, should not, by itself, determine whether a goal should be allowed or disallowed. In other words, goals scored while attacking players are standing in the crease may, in appropriate circumstances be allowed.

“Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgement of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.”

The rulebook goes on to state that, “If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.”

It’s worth noting that, as mentioned in the rule, neither Ingram nor Watt had access to a video reply system to review the goal; they had only what they saw once, in real time, in front of them.

Habscheid went on to explain how the call seemed to be one of many that didn’t go the Raiders’ way in this series. “When you go from Game 1 until now – and I’ve got to defend my guys; they played hard – but every break and every call has gone against us.”

He also emphasized that he felt P.A. was the better team in Wednesday’s tight loss. “We hit crossbars, broke sticks when we had open nets, we missed open nets. Our guys played great. I’m defending our guys.

“They played hard. We deserved a better fate, and we deserved a better fate in this series.”

Looking ahead to Game 5 in Moose Jaw on Saturday, the Raiders coach said, “We’re not done yet. It could be 4-0 in our favour. So we’re not done.”

Hunter had no comment on the disallowed goal, except to say that, “It was a disallowed goal.”

Asked about Fonstad’s disallowed goal, Willms talked about what he saw. He said he felt contact from Martin, and “Their guy came in, and we got kind of tangled up, and I couldn’t push over across.”

He stopped 32 Raiders’ shots for the shutout; Scott stopped 21 of 22 shots from the Warriors.

Game 5 is set for Saturday in Moose Jaw at 7 p.m. If the Raiders win the game and force a Game 6, it will be played in Prince Albert on Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.