|Pats winger Dawson Leedahl (#71) muscles his way out of a crowd.|
SWIFT CURRENT – The Regina Pats became the lunch pail crew to stay alive in the post-season.
Having finished first overall in the WHL regular season 52-12-7-1 mark and being rated first in the final CHL top ten rankings released on March 22, the Pats are commonly pictured as a team that wins on finesse. On Saturday night at the Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current against the host Broncos, the Pats didn’t abandon their skill.
With that said, their greasy goals of just diving to the net proved to be the difference in a 5-3 victory in Game 6 of a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Pats, who trailed the best-of-seven set 3-1 at one time, evened the series up at 3-3. A winner take all Game 7 is set for Monday at 7 p.m. at the Brandt Centre.
|Austin Wagner had two goals and an assist for the Pats.|
The Pats hit the scoreboard first at the 7:24 mark of the first period, when standout winger Austin Wagner scored on a shift where his club buzzed around the Broncos net. The Broncos evened things up at 1-1 heading into the first intermission on a goal from Russian defenceman Artyom Minulin.
The host side proceeded to jump ahead 3-1 with two early goals to open the second period. Just 29 seconds into the frame, winger Arthur Miller knocked home the rebound of a shot from Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin to put Swift Current up 2-1.
At the 2:27 mark, Gawdin converted a nifty setup pass from winger Tyler Steenbergen to put the Broncos up 3-1 and the sellout crowd of 2,890 almost blew the roof off the team’s home rink.
For the longest time, it appeared the Broncos were going to advance to the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship series for the first time since 2001. They were sent reeling after the Pats scored twice inside of the final 90 seconds of the second to force a 3-3 tie.
|Winger Filip Ahl zips into the offensive zone for the Pats.|
With 1:24 to play in the frame, Pats star centre Sam Steel fed a setup pass across the face of the Broncos goal to pinching rearguard Josh Mahura, who popped home the puck to cut the Broncos lead to 3-2. Regina tied the score up at 3-3 with 25 seconds to play in the second, when centre Wyatt Sloboshan tipped home a point shot from Mahura.
The Pats continued to jump on the Broncos early in the third. Just 75 seconds into the frame, Wagner scored his second goal of the night by just driving hard to the net. At the 5:48 mark, Swedish winger Filip Ahl added a greasy insurance goal to put the Pats up 5-3.
In between those Regina tallies, the Broncos had a chance to get the momentum back in their favour, but Swift Current centre Kaden Elder ended up ripping a shot off the crossbar of the Pats goal.
|Pats centre Wyatt Sloboshan (#13) forechecks Broncos rearguard Max Lajoie.|
After the Pats vaulted ahead by two goals, they proceeded to sit back defensively and were successful in closing out the contest. Netminder Tyler Brown was steady in the Regina net making 34 stops to pick up the win.
Jordan Papirny turned away 23 shots to take the loss in goal for the Broncos.
The Pats needed to resort to a more greasy effort as captain Adam Brooks dressed but was limited to cheering on his teammates and opening the door on the bench for a second straight game. Brooks hasn’t seen a shift since being on the receiving end of a knee-on-knee hit in his team’s victory in Game 2 of their series with the Broncos.
|The Pats celebrate Austin Wagner’s goal in the first period.|
Regina’s on ice chemistry seemed to have taken a step up when Ahl returned for their victory in Game 5 after missing three contests to undergo tests for the mumps.
For the second straight contest, Sloboshan took Brooks’ regular spot centring a line that contains Ahl on left wing and Wagner on right wing. Everyone on that unit was a plus-four in the plus-minus department.
Sloboshan, who is a former captain of the Saskatoon Blades, has mainly played a defensive forward role with the Pats, but he arguably had his best outing wearing Regina’s colours on Saturday night. Besides collecting a couple of assists to go along with his goal, Sloboshan was tough in the faceoff circle and came in hard on the forecheck.
|Glenn Gawdin had a goal and two assists for the Broncos.|
Wagner had an assist to go along with his two goals, while Ahl had a pair of helpers.
The Broncos, who were 39-23-4-6 in the regular season, were without star winger Lane Pederson, who left the first period of his team’s loss in Game 5 due to injury. His status for Game 7 is likely uncertain.
Heading into Game 7, the Pats now look poised to make their first appearance in the WHL’s Eastern Conference championship series since 1993. In order to succeed in playoffs, teams will have to find gutty ways to win at times, and the Pats have done that for two straight games.
If the Pats put on a gritty effort for a third straight contest, they will increase their chances of advancing. On the other side, the Broncos aren’t going away, so there are no guarantees on how Game 7 will play out.
The drama in how that contest unfolds should be fun to watch.
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