Buckle up Raider fans, the ride has just begun.
In the most dramatic of ways, the Prince Albert Raiders ended a six-game losing streak with a 6-5 overtime victory over the Saskatoon Blades on Friday at the Art Hauser Centre.
After having built up a 3-0 lead 14 minutes into their second-to-last regular-season game, the Raiders had to battle back from a 5-3 deficit with two goals in the final 11 minutes to force overtime and then with their one and only shot of the extra session, Leon Draisaitl found the back of the net to lift Prince Albert to victory.
Finding the back of the net is key to the excitement that a sellout crowd of 3,366 had to endure as the blast from the top of the face-off circle went right through the net and play continued before a video replay confirmed that it was indeed a goal.
“There was a little bit of luck in there, but I’ll take it” said Draisaitl, the German import who was named the game’s first star. “It’s pretty good for the team to come out of the game with the win.”
“We’ve had a pretty tough time the last couple of weeks so everyone is really excited that we won the game tonight,” added Draisaitl.
Reeling from a slump that has seen the club drop from first in the East Division to fifth in the Eastern Conference, the Raiders needed to come out strong as they prepare for their first playoff appearance in two years.
They did just that with Chance Braid opening the scoring five minutes in and Anthony Bardaro netting two more by the time the game was 14 minutes old.
A Nathan Burns power-play marker late in the opening session turned the tide, however, as the Blades added another tally by Darren Dietz 50 seconds later to draw to within one by the first intermission.
Saskatoon controlled the play in the second period and took the lead on goals by Dalton Thrower and Collin Valcourt with Burns collecting his second power-play marker early in the third to stretch the advantage to two goals.
Mark McNeill, with his first of the season in seven games against the Blades, got Prince Albert back on track and Davis Vandane electrified the Art Hauser Centre when his hard shot off a huge rebound evened the score with under five minutes to play.
That set the stage for Draisaitl’s winning tally, which came with just over two minutes to play in overtime.
The win not only ended Prince Albert’s losing skid, but keeps them in fifth place – two points ahead of the Swift Current Broncos. The Raiders can now finish no lower than sixth in the conference standings, but will need at least one point from the rematch with Saskatoon tonight, or a Bronco loss at home to the Regina Pats, to secure a date with the Red Deer Rebels in the opening round of the playoffs. Prince Albert could still face the Calgary Hitmen in the opening round depending on the results from tonight.
RAIDER NOTES: Luke Siemens turned aside 30 shots in the Prince Albert goal to set a Raider single-season record for saves with 1841. The old mark was set by Stan Matwijiw during the 1992-93 season…Andrey Makarov was tested 37 times with the Draisaitl game-winning tally the lone shot in overtime…Not dressed for Prince Albert were Joey Santucci, Riley Guenther, Tim Vanstone, Brendan Guhle and Matteo Gennaro. All were healthy scratches…Braid added three assists for his first four-point game of his career…The win assures the Raiders that they will win the season series with the Blades as they enter tonight’s contest with a 4-2-0-1 edge…Tonight’s game starts at 7 p.m. and will be sponsored by CTV with one fan going to win a flat-screen television…Season-ticket holders have until Sunday to pick reserve their seats for the post-season. After that, all unclaimed season tickets will be made available to the public…The playoffs start next Friday with Raider home games expected to be Mar. 24 and 25.