Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Point still important in big playoff picture for Blades

Blades goalie Brock Hamm holds off the Silvertips.
    The Saskatoon Blades have reached the point where they never like to lose, but when you are trying to cement a playoff berth, any point you can get in the standings is important.
    On Wednesday night at the SaskTel Centre, the Blades were looking to extend their winning streak to four games taking on the Everett Silvertips, who are rated eighth in the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10 rankings. The two teams battled to a legitimate even 1-1 stalemate though 60 minutes of regulation time and a five-minute three-on-three overtime period.
    In a four-round tiebreaking shootout, the Silvertips prevailed 2-1 to take the contest 2-1 before 2,935 spectators. Riley Sutter netted the winner in the shootout for the Silvertips, who also received a goal from Orrin Centazzo in the tiebreaker session. Jesse Shynkaruk had Saskatoon’s lone goal in the shootout.
The Blades and Silvertips scramble in front of the Everett net.
    The win allowed the Silvertips, who have won three in a row, to improve to 34-12-8-2 and move a point ahead of the idle Seattle Thunderbirds (36-16-3-2) for first place in the WHL’s U.S. Division.
    The Blades saw their record move to 23-26-5-2. The point they earned in the standings allowed them to sit three points up on the idle Calgary Hitmen (20-26-8-2) for eighth place and the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
    While the Blades expectations of themselves have increased despite the face they are missing six regulars due to injury, they still must be mindful of the bigger picture.
    Saskatoon is trying to nail down its first playoff berth since 2013, when the Blades hosted that year’s Memorial Cup. After three years of missing the post-season, the Blades are sitting in a playoff position as of Feb. 15. They were nowhere near such a spot this late in a campaign during the last three years.
Centre Kirby Dach (#77) gets set in the offensive zone for the Blades.
    On paper, you wouldn’t expect the Blades to match up well against a team like the Silvertips. The fact Saskatoon earned a point against Everett is big, because a number of other teams in the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoff chase wouldn’t be able to say the same thing.
    The Blades have beaten some of the WHL’s elite teams this season including the Regina Pats, who top the WHL’s overall standings, and the Central Division leading Medicine Hat Tigers. Against the Silvertips, it appeared the Blades were poised to send another elite team down to defeat.
    Saskatoon opened the scoring in the clash with Everett in the first period, when underage centre Kirby Dach deflected home a point shot from Blades overage defenceman Bryton Sayers.
Riley Sutter (#14) wins a draw for the Silvertips.
    At the 14:04 mark of the second period, the Silvertips tied things up at 1-1, when overage left-winger Dominic Zwerger netted his 23rd goal of the season.
    For most of the night, the goalies stole the show. Silvertips netminder Carter Hart, who played for Canada’s world junior team this season, turned away 30 shots over 65 minutes of play to allow the Silvertips to have a chance to win in a shootout.
    Blades netminder Brock Hamm, whose WHL career has shown a resurgence since the start of last December, stopped 28 shots over 65 minutes of work. Had Hamm bested Hart, it would have marked his biggest personal win of the season.
The Silvertips celebrate their victory after a tiebreaking shootout.
    As long as the Blades keep collecting points in the standings, they put that much more pressure on the Hitmen to keep pace. Saskatoon will try to increase its hold on the final playoff berth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference when they travel to Cranbrook, B.C., on Friday to face the Kootenay Ice.
    Every small step the Blades take in increasing their point total in the standings gets them that much closer to hitting the ice in the post-season.

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