A gruelling week came to an unceremonious conclusion for the Prince Albert Raiders on Saturday as they were shutout 3-0 by the Broncos in Swift Current.
Prince Albert played five games in eight nights posting a 2-2-0-1 record, which in most cases is respectable, but considering it followed a short turnaround after a 20-hour bus trip from Vancouver at the conclusion of their swing through British Columbia, the performance was actually pretty good.
Plus, all of the games were against playoff-contending teams including a pair against the top two clubs in the Eastern Conference (Calgary and Edmonton) and two more versus their closest challengers (Saskatoon and Swift Current) for first place in the East Division.
Unfortunately, the two losses were against the challengers and with the Saskatoon Blades winning their eighth straight Western Hockey League game on Saturday on a night when Credit Union Centre celebrated its 25th anniversary, Prince Albert’s season-long hold on the East Division lead is perilously close to ending.
Prince Albert’s loss in Swift Current and Saskatoon’s win over Lethbridge leaves the Raiders with just a two-point cushion, but the Blades also have one game in hand. Swift Current has moved to within 10 points of Prince Albert following Saturday’s victory.
The story of the game on Saturday was two-fold: another slow start put Prince Albert behind the eight-ball and Finnish goaltender Eetu Laurikainen was perfect in stopping all 35 shots. A third barrier was an ineffective power-play as Prince Albert was 0-for-3 on Saturday to go with its 0-for-6 outing on Friday against Lethbridge.
Adam Lowry and Brett Lernout put the Broncos up 2-0 in the first period and Chance Lund rounded out the scoring with a marker in the final two minutes of the game to give Swift Current its third straight win over the Raiders after Prince Albert had won the first three meetings between the provincial rivals this year. All victories have come on home ice.
Luke Siemens, who was playing in his 51st game of the year, turned aside 38 of 41 shots.
This coming week is somewhat easier for the Raiders as they only play three games, but again all three are going to be tough as they are against divisional foes.
The Raiders are in Moose Jaw on Tuesday, home to Swift Current for the final time on Wednesday and then have Moose Jaw in for a final visit on Saturday.
Moose Jaw is 10 points back of the Medicine Hat Tigers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Prince Albert and the Warriors have met five times this year with the Raiders winning three. However, the two have not seen each other since Nov. 21 when the Raiders recorded a 3-2 victory in Moose Jaw.
RAIDER NOTES: Prince Albert was without Harrison Ruopp (lower-body) and Tim Vanstone (upper-body) while Dakota Conroy also sat out Saturday’s game in favour of Jonas Knutsen, who was returning to the line-up after missing two weeks with an upper-body injury. It is unclear when Ruopp will return, but Vanstone was back on the ice last week practising with the team just days after being knocked out in a fight with Calgary’s Josh Thrower…Wednesday’s game against Swift Current will be another Las Vegas Night with fans encouraged to enter a draw for a trip for two to Las Vegas. All entrants must be 21 years of age or older with the prize including return airfare and two nights of accommodation…Fans in Saskatoon apparently stood and cheered when it was announced that the Raiders lost in Swift Current. Prince Albert and Saskatoon have two more meetings this year – the final two games of the regular season – with both of those scheduled for the Art Hauser Centre.