Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Blades outgun Hurricanes 6-4, pass first test after playoff clinch

Hurricanes LW Taylor Ross, left, battles Blades C Kirby Dach for the puck.
    In their first outing after locking up a playoff berth, the Saskatoon Blades showed they are ready to march on with the rest of the season.
    Last Saturday, the Blades clinched their first playoff berth since 2013 downing the Kootenay Ice 4-3 after a tiebreaking shootout. On Tuesday, the Blades faced a major test in their first regular season outing since securing their post-season berth hosting the playoff battle hardened Lethbridge Hurricanes at the SaskTel Centre.
    The Hurricanes entered the contest riding a three-game winning streak, boasting a roster that contains some exceptional offensive talent and are in a heated race for first place in the WHL’s Central Division.
Riley McKay had two assists for the Blades on Tuesday.
    Lethbridge has lots of post-season experience on their side too having advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship series in each of the past two seasons.
    If any extra intrigue needed to be added, Tuesday’s game featured a battle between two highly touted prospects for the next NHL Entry Draft in Blades centre Kirby Dach and Hurricanes centre Dylan Cozens. Both could possibly be first round selections.
    When the dust settled, Dach and his line including right-winger Ryan Hughes and left-winger Riley McKay had a huge night helping the Blades skate to a 6-4 victory before 3,083 spectators. 
    Hughes had two goals and two assists, Dach had a goal and two assists, while McKay had a pair of helpers. All three were a plus-one in the plus-minus department.
The Blades celebrate a goal from Ryan Hughes (#53).
    Cozens was limited to one assist and a plus-one rating despite a very energetic effort.
    The Blades improved to 39-14-8 with the win, while the Hurricanes fell to 32-18-5-5.
    Over the course of a long hockey season, good teams ultimately have to pick up wins in very different ways. Against the Hurricanes, the Blades offence hit high gear to pull out victory.
    Still, the Blades did encounter adversity, which will happen in games against good opponents. Good opponents will find ways to make plays, and it is key to have a good response when high quality opponents make good plays.
    The Hurricanes struck first just 2:20 into Tuesday’s contest. While working on the power play, Hurricanes centre Jake Leschyshyn hit linemate Nick Henry with a backdoor pass, and Henry buried his 24th goal of the season to give Lethbridge a 1-0 lead.
Dylan Cozens had an assist for the Hurricanes.
    Just 49 seconds later, the Blades evened things up at 1-1, when left-winger Kyle Crnkovic fired home the rebound of a shot taken by linemate Eric Florchuk into an open cage.
    The Blades jumped out in front 2-1 just 74 seconds into the second period on a power-play goal from “Uncle” Gary Haden, who converted a feed from the left corner boards from Dach.
    Saskatoon extended its edge to 3-1 at the 12:19 mark of the second, when captain Chase Wouters banged home a power-play goal from the front of the Lethbridge net.
    The host side could have gone up by three, but Blades right-winger Cyle McNabb was robbed on a scoring chance in front of the Lethbridge goal by the glove hand of Hurricanes netminder Carl Tetachuk.
    The Hurricanes mounted a push back scoring twice in a span of 2:57 around the midway point of the third. Jake Elmer and Logan Barlage scored in that surge to force a 3-3 tie.
Jake Elmer had a goal for the Hurricanes on Tuesday.
    Just 19 seconds later, the Blades answered back, when Hughes one-timed a set up pass from McKay to give the hosts a 4-3 lead.
    Hughes and McKay teamed up to give Dach a chance a lone in front of the Hurricanes just over two minutes later, and Dach dangled and deked to beat Hurricanes netminder Carl Tetachuk to increase the Blades advantage to 5-3.
    The Hurricanes wouldn’t go away. With 3:57 remaining in the third, Hurricanes overage left-winger Taylor Ross took a drop pass from Elmer and wired his 31st goal of the season past Blades netminder Nolan Maier to cut Saskatoon’s advantage to 5-4.
    Hughes scored a long empty-net goal to seal the win for the host side with 91 second remaining in the third.
Blades C Kirby Dach (#77) battles Hurricanes C Dylan Cozens.
    Maier made 35 saves to pick up the win in goal for the Blades. Carl Tetachuk turned away 23 shots to take the setback in net for the Hurricanes.
    With the loss, Lethbridge fell four points behind the Edmonton Oil Kings (35-18-4-4) for top spot in the Central.
    Lethbridge has a game in hand on Edmonton.
    The Hurricanes head to Prince Albert on Wednesday to take on the WHL leading Raiders at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Saskatoon will continue to fine tune its game and try to finish as high in the WHL standings as possible.
    The Blades have sat inside of the top five in the league for most of the campaign.
    They hold second in the East Division with a 10 point standings lead over the Moose Jaw Warriors (34-17-6-2).
    Moose Jaw has two games in hand on Saskatoon.
    The Blades return to action on Friday, when they host the Regina Pats at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.
The Blades celebrate their victory on Tuesday.
    They will aim to make their journey through uncharted waters memorable for this generation of the team.

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