It isn’t they way they wanted it to happen, but the Prince Albert Raiders are heading back to the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Despite losing 4-3 to the Calgary Hitmen on Wednesday at the Art Hauser Centre, the Raiders secured a berth in the post-season when the Lethbridge Hurricanes were defeated 4-0 by the Red Deer Rebels.
While the loss in Lethbridge was good news on one front, it also meant that Prince Albert’s chances of having home-ice advantage in the opening round are slowly slipping away.
Red Deer is now six points ahead of the Raiders and although Prince Albert has a game in hand, any combination of Raider losses or Rebels victories totalling two puts Prince Albert in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
That, too, is becoming a bit of a concern as the loss to the Hitmen was Prince Albert’s third straight and fifth in their last seven games. The downturn has dropped the Raiders from as high as the No. 2 seed in the conference to where they are now looking over their shoulders at the Medicine Hat Tigers and Swift Current Broncos, both of whom are just five points back of Prince Albert.
The Raiders could still catch the Saskatoon Blades for first place in the East Division, but they would have to run the table in their remaining games and hope the Blades lose all theirs, which includes a doubleheader next weekend in Prince Albert.
With five games remaining on the schedule, and with the pressure of securing a playoff berth for just the second time in six years behind them, the Raiders can now focus on getting ready for the second season. Prince Albert head coach Steve Young said in the post-game show on Wednesday that, although the loss was disappointing, the performance itself was good.
“I thought the effort was there,” said Young. “They (Calgary) are a top team with a lot of speed and I thought we played them the way we liked to.”
“It was a game, obviously, where it was a chance for us to win.”
After Leon Draisaitl for the Raiders and Chase Clayton for the Hitmen exchanged first-period goals, Prince Albert built a 3-1 advantage early in the middle session on goals by Jonas Knutsen and Mark McNeill.
Calgary, however, battled back on markers by Cody Sylvester and Elliott Peterson to knot the score at 3-3 after 40 minutes of play and Peterson scored the eventual game winner with just under eight minutes to play.
“It’s easier to coach and teach when you win,” noted Young with obvious disappointment of the loss, but still confident the team will be ready when the playoffs roll around.
RAIDER NOTES: Prince Albert outshot the Hitmen 41-32 with Luke Siemens making his 61st appearance of the season for the Raiders. Chris Driedger was in the Calgary net…Draisaitl’s first-period tally was his 20th of the season giving Prince Albert five players with 20 or more goals this year. The others are McNeill, Mike Winther, Anthony Bardaro and Dakota Conroy…Not dressed for the Raiders were Riley Guenther, Tim Vanstone and Joey Santucci. All were healthy scratches…Prince Albert completes a busy four-games-in-five-nights stretch when they travel to Regina to face the Pats on Friday before returning home to take on Medicine Hat on Saturday.