Sunday, 10 March 2019

Blades rally past Warriors in playoff type tilt

Two sides will collide in first round of WHL post-season

The Blades and Warriors engage in a third period scrum.
    It was a game that had a bit of everything including a post-season feel.
    On Sunday, the visiting Moose Jaw Warriors took on the Saskatoon Blades before 4,454 spectators at the SaskTel Centre in the final regular season clash between the two sides. The two clubs will meet in a best-of-seven WHL first round playoff series once the regular season concludes.
    As for Sunday’s clash, the Warriors held leads of 2-0 and 3-1 only to see the Blades close things out with four consecutive goals to pull out a 5-3 victory.
Max Gerlach scored his 40th goal of the season on Sunday.
    Saskatoon won five out of the six head-to-head encounters with Moose Jaw in the regular season.
    Along with the Blades posting a comeback win, Sunday’s contest featured a stopped penalty shot, some chippy play, trash talking and a post-game standoff. The standoff occurred right after the Blades gave a salute to the crowd.
    Most of the Warriors players hadn’t left their bench yet, and they were yelling at the players on the Saskatoon side. The Blades players formed a line on the ice and fired verbal barbs back at the Moose Jaw side.
    The officials ultimately ushered both clubs to their respective dressing rooms.
    The win was the seventh in a row for the Blades allowing them to improve to 44-14-8. Saskatoon has won 14 out of its last 15 games and is 28-5-3 since last Dec. 1. 
Tristin Langan scored his 50th goal of the season on Sunday.
    The Warriors fell to 37-20-6-2 with the setback.
    While the Blades have piled up the wins, standout left-winger “Uncle” Gary Haden said posting a comeback win over Moose Jaw was important for his team.
    “It was big for sure,” said Haden. “Being down two goals twice in the game, it is not wanted obviously.
    “We didn’t get off to the start we wanted either. I think it showed good resiliency battling back against a team we are going to meet in the first round and hopefully setting a tone for the first round of playoffs.”
    The Warriors jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period with goals coming off the sticks of 16-year-old rookie defenceman Daemon Hunt and overage star centre Tristin Langan.
    Saskatoon had a chance to score on a penalty shot from rookie left-winger Kyle Crnkovic, when the Warriors were up 1-0, but the Chestermere, Alta., product was stopped by Warriors netminder Brodan Salmond.
    With the post-season just around the corner, Blades head coach Mitch Love was curious to see how his side would respond to the jump the Warriors got on the scoreboard in the opening 20 minutes.
Justin Almeida had a beauty assist on the Warriors third goal.
    “The one thing that we talked about after the first period was going down 2-0 is we’re going to be faced with this here in a couple of weeks for real,” said Love. “I was kind interested in the character in terms of just staying to the plan and staying the course.
    “It is something that we talked about all the time. Our guys did a real good job of that tonight.”
    The Blades broke through on the scoreboard, when overage star right-winger Max Gerlach wired home a shot at the 12:03 mark of the second period to cut the Warriors lead to 2-1. Gerlach’s goal came during a span of four-on-four action due to penalties.
    Just 20 seconds later, Langan one-timed a setup pass from linemate Justin Almeida to give the visitors a 3-1 lead during that same span of four-on-four action.
Dawson Davidson scores a key power-play goal for the Blades.
    Momentum swung again just over three minutes later. The Blades were about to go on a two-man advantage for 33 seconds, and club’s coaching staff called a timeout to draw up a play for an offensive zone faceoff.
    On that faceoff, Haden won the draw to linemate Ryan Hughes, who got the puck over to offensive defenceman Dawson Davidson. Davidson sniped home a mid-range shot to cut the Warriors lead to 3-2.
    “I told Hughesy to help me on the draw, because I was going against (Tristin) Langan,” said Haden. “I just said, ‘Hey, I’m going to try and tie him up. I just don’t want to lose it clean.’
    “I kind of won it, and he (Hughes) poked it to Davy (Davidson). Davy made it all look easy, and I will take that assist anytime.”
    After killing off a Warriors power play early in the third period, the Blades evened things up at 3-3, when a pass from Gerlach was deflected into the Moose Jaw goal by Haden off an offensive rush. The tally was Haden’s 30th goal of the season marking the first time he hit that plateau in his WHL career.
The Blades celebrate Gary Haden’s 30th goal of the season.
    “It is super cool,” said Haden. “Obviously, I didn’t come into this year thinking I was going to score 30.
    “I just wanted to play consistent hockey. You have to give my linemates credit. I couldn’t have done it without them.
    “Hopefully, there is a lot more to come this year.”
    Love thought Davidson’s power-play goal and Haden’s equalizer after a successful penalty kill were key moments in Sunday’s game.
    “We talked about the special teams being a factor in regular season play and it was again tonight,” said Love. “I thought our penalty kill to start the third period was huge.
    “Going down 4-2 versus getting through there down 3-2 and staying the course and getting some goals to happen right after that kill was huge in the hockey game.”
Gary Haden scored twice for the Blades on Sunday.
    The Blades took a 4-3 lead at the 5:24 mark of the third when overage defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus passed the puck from the point down to Gerlach, who was open in close at the right side of the Moose Jaw net. Gerlach sniped home his second of the contest and 40th of the season to give the Blades their one-goal edge.
    Gerlach had scored 30-or-more goals in each of his first three seasons in the league, but Sunday marked the first time he hit the 40-goal plateau in one campaign.
    “That obviously felt really good,” said Gerlach. “You want to do as best as you can for the team to help them win.
    “Obviously, I think those were two really big goals - one to get us started and then one to kind of seal things off there. I was obviously really excited about that. Any way I can help the team I feel great about it.”
    Looking to shake things up, the Warriors coaches pulled Salmond after Gerlach’s go-ahead goal. Salmond actually had a strong night turning away 36-of-40 shots sent his way.
Blades captain Chase Wouters (#44) battles past the Warriors defence.
    Adam Evanoff played the rest of the way in relief turning away all nine shots he faced.
    Haden scored into an empty net with 55.4 seconds remaining in the third period to seal with win for the Blades.
    Nolan Maier made 21 saves to pick up the win in goal for Saskatoon.
    The Warriors travel to Brandon on Wednesday to face the Wheat Kings at 7 p.m. local time at Westoba Place.
    The Blades close out their regular season schedule with a home-and-home series with their archrivals the Prince Albert Raiders. The two sides meet on Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. They go at it again on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
Blades C Kirby Dach eludes Warriors D Dalton Hamaliuk.
    The Blades and Warriors open their playoff series on March 22 at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. Love said the Blade 5-1 record against the Warriors in the regular season won’t mean anything when the post-season starts.
    “Everything is out the door now against those guys,” said Love. “We start from scratch.
    “It is going to be a grind. It was a grinding game. I think they started to fatigue playing three games in three nights.
    “We had the game last night against Swift Current, so we had a little more juice. That is a good hockey team over there, and we are going to have to be really, really sharp with details to stop that group.”
The Blades salute the SaskTel Centre crowd after their win on Sunday.
    NOTES - Blades rookie defenceman Aiden De La Gorgendiere left the second period of Sunday’s game with an upper body injury. He is expected to undergo further evaluations on Monday.

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