Raiders playoff hopes take a hit after 5-4 loss to Royals

Andrew Schopp
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Sporting an alternate jersey celebrating the 2014 Saskatchewan Winter Games, Prince Albert Raiders forward Calder Brooks shovels the puck past the left skate of Victoria Royals goaltender Coleman Vollrath to tie the game at three during second period action at the Art Hauser Centre on Saturday evening. The Royals won 5-4. Herald photo by Perry Bergson

After punching their ticket to the post-season on Wednesday, the Victoria Royals pushed the Prince Albert Raiders further away from theirs with a 5-4 win on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre.

The Raiders failed to gain any traction in their hunt for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot as they squandered a one-goal lead three times despite a potent two-for-four power play.

With the puck dinging off the Royals goal post throughout the night, Raiders coach Cory Clouston said his team's third loss in four games wasn't from a lack of effort.

"We did so many good things tonight," Clouston said. "We played well enough to win and it almost epitomizes the way things have gone for us the last couple of months. Our guys' effort and execution was there, I can't explain the puck luck that has gone against us at times."

The Raiders red hot extra-man unit, which is nine-for-16 in their last three games, converted early to open scoring with a point shot marker by defenseman Josh Morrissey, extending his scoring streak to seven games.

The Raiders continued to put the pressure on Royals backstop Coleman Vollrath, who entered Saturday's tilt leading the league in both goals against average and save percentage, keeping the shots in the first period close at 11-9 in favour of the Royals.  

With just over two minutes remaining in the first frame, the Royals responded with left wing Austin Carroll's 29th of the season, knotting things up at ones going into the second period.

The Raiders power play unit went back to work midway through the middle period and produced for the second time as defenceman Sawyer Lange ripped a slap shot past Vollrath to regain the lead. The Raiders wouldn't stay ahead for long however, as the Royals responded just under a minute and a half later  with a marker by centre Steven Hodges.

With the Raiders power play producing at a high level, Clouston admitted he was frustrated with the officiating on Saturday, which kept the hot unit off the ice through what he believed were at least two or three missed calls.

"We had some (calls) early and then it was like they (referees) just completely put the whistle away and all of sudden we are shorthanded two or three times in a row," Clouston said.

With six minutes to go in the period, the Royals would gain the lead for the first time after Raiders backstop Cole Cheveldave made a kick save and centre Ben Walker popped the rebound in the net.

As quick as the Royals were to take the lead, the Raiders were equally spry, tying things up just over a minute after Walker's goal as centre Calder Brooks tallied his 12th of the season to carry a 3-3 stalemate into the third period.

The Raiders found themselves back in the lead five minutes into the third frame when on a two-on-one,  centre Leon Drasaitl fed Dakota Conroy with a tape-to-tape pass which he netted for his 22nd of the season.

The Raiders penalty killing corps which had been solid in its previous two efforts finally cracked as the Royals knotted things up yet again with a power play marker by defenceman Travis Brown.

Once again, but for the final time, the lead exchanged hands as with five minutes to go in the third period, left wing Jack Walker netted his fifth of the season on a fluke, tipping the puck past Cheveldave.

With Saturday marking the fifth straight game the Raiders have faced off against a team in playoff position, the fact that they have kept up is a good sign as they prepare for to take on the league's tough U.S. Division in a grueling six-game road trip, Clouston said.

"We've played very tough opponents the last little while and I thought we've been able to hang in there  every single night tonight being no exception," he said. "I feel bad for them because they did everything a coach could ask."

The Raiders will hit the road to take on the Swift Current Broncos on Monday before they head south of the boarder to begin their tour of the U.S. Division on Wednesday in Spokane to face the Chiefs.

RAIDERS NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders on Saturday were Darcy Zaharichuk, Gage Quinney and Ryan Coghlan  ... The race for the Raiders top goal scorer slot remains tight as Draisaitl leads the pack with 24 goals followed by Conroy with 22, Morrissey with 21 and Reid Gardiner and Collin Valcourt tied for third with 20 goals each ... Morrissey has put up points in all seven games played in February with four goals and seven assists ... The Raiders post a record of 17-1-1 when leading after two periods of play ... The Royals became the third team in the league to clinch a playoff spot on Wednesday with a 3-2 triumph over the Tri-City Americans ... Morrissey's 21st goal of the season on Saturday, put him within one of Raider alumni Emanuel Viveiros' record of most goals by a defenseman in a single season in the 1985-1986 campaign ... Viveiros is current behind in the bench in Sochi, Russia as coach for the Austrian men's hockey team at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. 

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