Swift Current Broncos forward Nathan Burns works in front of Prince Albert Raiders forward Shane Danyluk as goaltender Cole Cheveldave stretches to cover the net during first period action at the Art Hauser Centre on Tuesday evening. The game started nearly an hour late because of problems with the Broncos’ bus that led to their late arrival. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
The Prince Albert Raiders have a mountain to climb, but a 5-2 triumph over the Swift Current Broncos on Tuesday at the Art Hauser Centre is a good start.
With an empty-net goal in the third period, centre Leon Drasaitl competed a hat trick as the Raiders snapped a three-game losing skid and look to catch the Red Deer Rebels for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
Goaltending on both sides was solid but Raiders starting goalie Cole Cheveldave stole the show. Cheveldave stopped 34 of 36 shots en route to the victory, improving his record to 19-18-4.
Although he by no means stole the game for his team, Raiders coach Cory Clouston said Cheveldave's solid performance, backed by strong offensive play, is what he expects from the overage goaltender.
"He played well," Clouston said of Cheveldave. "He's a 20-year-old, he's got to be the guy that when we are in a situation like this, to step up and he did that tonight, we need him like that for the last part of the season for sure."
The Raiders went to work early on Broncos import backstop Eetu Laurikainen, pouring a series of shots on the Finnish keeper who entered Tuesday's game with the league's third-best save percentage of .924.
After striking first on the scoreboard in three straight games, the Raiders surrendered the opening goal when Broncos right wing Coda Gordon tallied his 20th goal of the season on the team's second shot seven minutes into the first period.
The Raiders responded right back just under two and a half minutes later on the power play when after a feed from defenceman Josh Morrissey, left wing Collin Valcourt took several whacks at the puck to finally beat Laurikainen and carry a 1-1 stalemate into the second frame.
Fifty one seconds into the second period, the Broncos regained the lead when defenceman Brett Lernout put a soft shot from the point through traffic and the legs of Cheveldave.
Lernout's goal was just about the only flaw in Cheveldave's game in the second period. As the Broncos outshot the Raiders 16-15 in the frame, Cheveldave was solid, stopping a series of strong scoring opportunities and midway through the period he blanked Broncos left wing Colby Cave on a breakaway chance to keep the Raiders within one.
The Raiders tied things up once again after a outstanding individual effort by centre Leon Draisaitl who danced in all alone to sneak the puck past Laurikainen and carry a 2-2 tie into the third period.
"He's an elite player, we need him to be our leader on the ice and off the ice and he was tonight," Clouston said of Drasaitl's individual efforts on Tuesday. "He was good defensively, strong in the offensive zone and he lead by example."
While during the Raiders recent struggles, a one-goal deficit has been scary, but Clouston said he thought his team did well dealing with the pressure of being down on the scoreboard for a brief period.
"I thought we were patient," Clouston said. "Our guys did a great job of just sticking with it, being patient and waiting for our opportunities, credit to the players for showing a lot of resiliency."
Giving the Raiders their first lead of the game, centre Shane Danyluk hammered a slap shot from the point through Laurikainen's five-hole.
Less than two minutes later, Draisaitl broke free on a two-on-one, feeding the puck to defenceman Josh Morrissey who fed it right back to Draisaitl to net his second of the night and put the Raiders ahead 4-2.
With Laurkainen on the bench for the extra-attacker leaving the net empty, Drasaitl was able to again dance his way through the Broncos defence and tally his first career WHL hattrick with eight seconds to go, clinching the Raiders second win in five games.
The Raiders are back at home on Friday to face the Moose Jaw Warriors and are right back it on Saturday, taking on the Medicine Hat Tigers at the Art Hauser Centre.
RAIDER NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders on Tuesday were Ryan Coghlan, Jayden Hart and Matteo Gennaro ... Due to their team bus breaking down in Swift Current, the Broncos arrived at the Art Hauser Centre for Tuesday's game a little late, but were on the ice for a warm-up at 7:20 ... Going into Tuesday’s tilt, Raiders centre Gennaro posted a team-high plus-3 rating against the Broncos this season … Defenceman Josh Morrissey entered Tuesday’s game as the league leader in goal scoring by a defenceman with 17 markers this season. Morrisset is tied for fourth by a d-man in a single season in Raiders franchise history … Centre Leon Draisaitl had posted a point in 36 of 43 games played for the Raiders this season ... Broncos defenceman Julius Honka was on the gold medal-winning Finland team at the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship. Honka tallied an assist and six penalty minutes en route to Finland's first gold medal since 1998.