Friday, 12 April 2019

Déjà vu win for Raiders, business picks up in heated rivalry with Blades

Noah Gregor, centre, celebrates scoring his second goal for the Raiders.
     PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - The Prince Albert Raiders seem to like reruns on Friday nights.
     This rerun, however, had a bit of an extra edge in the nasty department in the Raiders rivalry with the Saskatoon Blades.
    After skating through a scoreless opening period, the Raiders romped to a 6-1 victory over the Blades before a sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre in Game 5 of a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    With the win, the Raiders take a 3-2 advantage in the series. They will look to close things out in Game 6 on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
    Exactly a week ago in the same building, the Raiders opened the series thrashing the Blades 6-1 before a sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators.
Noah Gregor (#18) jets down the ice on a short-handed breakaway.
    In both contests, Blades star netminder Nolan Maier was given a mercy pull. In Game 5, he was pulled with 6:06 remaining in the third period after the Raiders scored to go up 6-1.
    He stopped 19 shots fired his way. Associate player call up Koen MacInnes, who turned 17-years-old in January and was playing for the Burnaby Winter Club Prep team, didn’t face any shots in his relief appearance.
    Dorrin Luding, who is the Blades regular backup goalie, was sidelined with an upper body injury like in Games 1 and 2. He dressed for Games 3 and 4 of the series in Saskatoon.
    Unlike Game 1, Game 5 contained a lot more high tension play. It was obvious these teams were meeting for the 13th time including action in the regular season and playoffs and a healthy dose of dislike was present.
Dante Hannoun had a pair of goals and an assist for the Raiders.
    In the second period, the starting goaltenders of both teams were run into once. Early in the frame, feisty Blades winger Riley McKay knocked down Raiders star netminder Ian Scott.
    Shortly after the 11-minute part of the period, Raiders power forward Parker Kelly ran into Maier.
Both McKay and Kelly received goaltender interference penalties for their respective hits.
    The biggest head raising collision came with 6-1 burned on the scoreboard and 5:08 remaining in the third period.
    At that moment, Raiders physical forward Justin Nachbaur drilled Blades overage offensive defenceman Dawson Davidson hard into the boards in the Saskatoon zone after Davidson had just passed the puck behind his own net. Davidson was helped off the ice and didn’t return to the game.
Brett Leason (#20) had three assists for the Raiders.
    Nachbaur received a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct. The nature of the penalty will trigger an automatic review by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
    Nachbaur has been suspended in the past by the WHL for his rough play on the ice, and that fact might weigh into this situation.
    When the contest finished, you can bet some of the fans on both teams were sharing upset views over social media lines, which might have made those lines toxic to be on for a short time.
    Still the difference in the game was the fact a trio of star players from the Raiders broke out on the scoreboard making up for the absence of star left-winger Cole Fonstad, who was scratched with an undisclosed injury.
The Blades lost defenceman Dawson Davidson due to injury.
    Overage centres Noah Gregor and Dante Hannoun each posted two goals and an assist in the win. Star right-winger Brett Leason had three assists for Prince Albert.
    Gregor had been held pointless in Games 3 and 4 in Saskatoon, and Leason was held pointless in his three previous games. The breakout of that duo, who were Prince Albert’s top two scorers in the regular season, was the biggest factor Game 5 turned into a romp.
    Both had gone through extended periods of being snakebitten in the previous two games of the series.
    Going into Friday’s contest, Maier was coming off two sensational performances for the Blades in their wins in Games 3 and 4 at home turning away 69-of-70 shots sent his way in those outings.
Raiders fans cheer on one of their team’s goals.
    After the Raiders and Blades skated through a scoreless opening frame, you could feel a nervous tension among the Raiders faithful.
    That tension gave way to constant cheering once the second period started.
    Just 2:51 into the second period, Hannoun netted his first of two goals in the game firing home a point shot through a screen on the power play to give the Raiders a 1-0 edge.
    The host’s edge expanded to 2-0 thanks to a spectacular short-handed breakaway goal by Gregor at the 6:01 mark of the frame.
    Just over three minutes later, the Blades appeared to stop the Raiders momentum, when import defenceman Emil Malysjev fired home his first goal of the post-season.
Sean Montgomery scored for the Raiders on Friday.
    The reprieve of Malysjev’s goal lasted 76 seconds, when Gregor got in alone on Maier and tucked home an on-ice tally to put the Raiders up 3-1.
    Import left-winger Aliaksei Protas scored 61 seconds into the third to give the Raiders a 4-1 advantage.
    Hannoun, with his second of the contest, and overage centre Sean Montgomery rounded out the Raiders scoring in the third.
    Scott stopped 26 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Raiders.
    With the victory, the Raiders are on the verge of extending their magical season where they topped the WHL’s overall regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    One more win and the Raiders will advance to the WHL Eastern Conference championship series for the first time since falling to the Brandon Wheat Kings in seven games in 2005.
The Raiders celebrate their win on Friday night.
    The Blades will be trying to keep their breakout season alive that saw them finish fourth overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record and earn honourable mention status in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    No matter what happens in Game 6 on Sunday, the rivalry between the Raiders and Blades has hit new heights that haven’t been seen for some time.

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