Friday, 16 March 2018

Blades rally past Raiders with third period surge

Chase Wouters netted the winning goal for the Blades on Friday.
    The power play got hot at the right time for the Saskatoon Blades.
    Trailing the host Raiders in Prince Albert 1-0 before 3,033 spectators at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday night, the Blades scored two power-play goals inside of the final six minutes of the third period to pull out a 2-1 victory in a WHL regular season clash.
    Working on a five-on-three power play, Blades left-winger Eric Florchuk took an offensive zone faceoff and won it back to right-winger Max Gerlach, who was positioned at the centre of the ice at the top of the two faceoff circles. The 19-year-old sharpshooter blasted home his 32nd goal of the season to tie things up at 1-1 with 5:23 to play in the third period.
    With 1:41 to play in the third period, sophomore centre Chase Wouters scored the winning goal for the Blades with a beauty effort on the power play. Wouters got the puck at the right side boards from overage left-winger Braylon Shmyr, cut to the front of the Prince Albert goal, went forehand to backhand and put a shot past a screened Raiders netminder Ian Scott to give the visitors a one-goal victory.
    Friday’s encounter turned into a classic rivalry clash these two teams are famous for resulting in three fights.
    In the second period, Blades defenceman Jake Kustra tangled with Raiders left-winger Justin Nachbaur and Saskatoon Russian import defenceman Mark Rubinchik battled with Prince Albert power forward Kody McDonald.
    Kustra and McDonald went at it in the third period. A scrum and drama also ensued at the end of the game.
Jake Kustra was involved in a couple of fights on Friday.
    Outside of the physical aspect of the contest, the Raiders took a 1-0 lead with just under 30 seconds to play in the first period on a short-handed goal from right-winger Parker Kelly. Kelly blocked a shot in his own zone, sped down the ice fighting off the backcheck of Blades rookie centre Kirby Dach, got on a short breakaway and snapped a shot past Blades overage netminder Tyler Brown.
    It appeared Kelly’s goal, which was his 29th of the season, was going to hold up as the only tally of the contest until the Blades scored their two late power-play goals.
    Brown had a big night making 24 saves including a few stellar ones to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. Scott turned away 20 shots to take the setback in goal for the Raiders.
    The Raiders, who had earned points in the standings in their previous 11 games, fell to 32-26-9-4, but they are cemented as the second wildcard team in the WHL Eastern Conference. They will face the Moose Jaw Warriors, who finished first overall in the league, in a best-of-seven first round series.
    The Blades improved to 34-33-3-1 with their second win in a row and actually secured at least an eighth place overall finish in the 12 team Eastern Conference. Under the current WHL playoff format where the top three teams in each division and two wildcard teams with the next best records in each conference make the post-season, the Blades won’t take part in any playoff action. They have missed the playoffs for five straight years. 
Braylon Shmyr picked up an assist on the Blades’ winning goal.
    Saskatoon sits five points behind Prince Albert for the second wildcard spot. The Blades stumbled out of a playoff spot posting a 3-6-1 record in their last 10 games.
    Under the old playoff format that was last used in the 2013-14 campaign where the two divisional winners and the next six best records in each conference made the post-season, the Blades would have locked up a playoff berth.
    The Blades and Raiders will close out their respective regular season schedules with one last head-to-head encounter on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.

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