Monday, 13 March 2017

Blades caught between a rock and a hard place

Jesse Shynkaruk (#14) and the Blades are in tough to make playoffs now.
    It is crazy how things can change over the course of one weekend in the Western Hockey League.
    Entering play on Friday, the Saskatoon Blades held a three point lead in the standings over the Calgary Hitmen for eighth place overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and the conference’s final wildcard post-season spot. From that point, the Blades dropped two heartbreakers in a home-and-home series with the Swift Current Broncos (37-21-4-6), and the Hitmen rolled off three wins in a row, which included two huge upset victories over the Lethbridge Hurricanes (43-19-4-3).
    As of Monday, the Blades and Hitmen both have three games remaining on their respective regular season schedules. The Hitmen (28-31-8-2) lead the Blades (27-33-7-2) by three points for eighth overall in the Eastern Conference and the conference’s final wildcard playoff berth.
    It should also be noted the Red Deer Rebels could still potentially be passed in the standings by both the Hitmen and Blades. The Rebels have four games remaining on their regular season schedule, and they sit two points up on the Hitmen and five points ahead of the Blades in the standings with a 28-28-8-4 record.
    At this moment, Red Deer needs to earn just two more standings points to clinch a playoff spot, and the Hitmen need to collect four points in the standings to lock up a playoff berth.
    The Blades likely face the hardest road over this last stretch. On Tuesday, they travel to Regina to face the WHL leading Pats (48-12-7-1) at 7 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.
    The Pats need to earn two more points in the standings to officially lock up first overall in the league and win the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as regular season champions. The Pats haven’t finished first overall since the 1973-74 campaign, when they last won the Memorial Cup.
Jackson Caller and the Blades will compete hard to the end.
    Following that clash with the Pats, the Blades close their schedule with a home-and-home series with the Prince Albert Raiders (19-43-5-2). The two clubs play Friday at 7 p.m. in Saskatoon and Saturday at 7 p.m. in Prince Albert.
    Looking at the standings, those clashes appear to be winnable games, but the Raiders have been playing well down the stretch and are 11-9-2 in their last 22 outings. The Raiders and their fans would love nothing better than to knock the Blades out of the post-season picture for a fourth straight year.
    Red Deer travels to Medicine Hat on Tuesday to face the Tigers (49-19-1), who recently locked up first in the Central Division. On Wednesday, the Rebels return home to host the Hitmen.
    Following that contest, Red Deer finishes its season with a home-and-home series with the Edmonton Oil Kings (20-43-5-1). The teams play Saturday in Red Deer and Sunday in Edmonton.
    The Oil Kings have been hapless since returning from the WHL Christmas break and their last win came Feb. 15, when they downed the visiting Kootenay Ice 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
    As for the Hitmen, their road game on Wednesday against the Rebels is the hardest contest remaining on their schedule. Calgary closes its season with a home-and-home series with the Ice (14-43-9-2). The two clubs play Friday in Cranbrook, B.C., and Saturday in Calgary.
    The Ice are trying to avoid finishing last in the WHL standings for a second straight season after having made the playoffs for 17 consecutive campaigns. Kootenay has shown a little more fight than Edmonton but has been very lacklustre the past two weeks.
    Had the Blades been able to get a split with the Broncos, their chances of capturing a playoff berth would have improve immensely. 
Markson Bechtold (#19) has given the Blades more of a physical edge.
    Last Saturday’s 3-2 loss in the Swift Current hurt the worst. Both clubs were tied 2-2 going into the final minute of the third, when Ryley Lindgren netted the winner for the Broncos. If the Blades had been able to capture a point, there chances to make the post-season would have been better.
    Going into last Friday, the Blades were in a position to control their own destiny, because they would have made playoffs if they could win the remaining five regular season games on their schedule at that point. Now, they need to win out and hope for help that might not come.
    Saskatoon’s best chance for a post-season berth might come via a standings tiebreaker game, if a tie occurs with either Calgary or Red Deer. That might be too much to ask for at this point.

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