Playoff race tight as Raiders begin stretch run

Andrew
Andrew Schopp
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Prince Albert Raiders centre Leon Draisaitl currently sits seventh overall in league scoring with 86 points. In his rookie year last season, Draisaitl tallied 21 goals and 37 assists, for 58 points. Herald photo by Perry Bergson 

The Prince Albert Raiders haven’t fared particularly well in the last two months but luckily for them, neither have the Red Deer Rebels.

The race for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot has come down to the two teams, with the Rebels hanging on by a single point thread.

A disastrous January that included a five-game losing skid left the Raiders on the outside looking in on hockey’s second season. January was rough for the Raiders but a slight bounce back and an almost equally devastating February for the Rebels have thrust them back into contention.

Since Jan. 3, the Raiders posted a record of 9-13-3. The Rebels record of 11-13-2, punctuated by seven and three-game losing streaks, makes way for the league’s tightest race for a playoff berth.

One look at the Raiders February schedule would have speculators pegging them as dead in the water; 13 games, all but one against playoff teams.

The Raiders’ February included a season-long six-game road trip that had them tour the WHL’s U.S. Division.

The Raiders got through the potentially bubble team-burying trip, posting a record of 3-2-1 as they look to finish off the season strong in their remaining eight games.

March kicks off on Saturday as the Raiders take on the Kootenay Ice at the Art Hauser Centre, trailing the season series 1-2-0.

The marquee matchup pits two of the league’s hottest NHL prospects against each other as centres Leon Draisaitl and Sam Reinhart square off. While Reinhart sits seven points shy of his first 100-point season, Draisaitl has exploded with a 26-point February.

With 86 points on the season, Draisaitl sits seventh overall in league scoring with 29 goals and 57 assists.

As they take on the Ice to begin their stretch run, the Raiders will surely be watching the out-of-town scoreboard, evaluating the Rebels’ play as they dog fight for playoff position.

Should the Rebels play .500 hockey and go 4-4-0 to finish the season, the Raiders would need to post a record of 5-3-0 to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot by a single point.

Though the seventh place Brandon Wheat Kings seem to have a playoff spot all but locked up, a losing finish could see them fighting for their post-season lives as well, sitting ahead of the Rebels by four points with a record of 30-26-8.

A Rebels .500 record could be a worst-case scenario for the Raiders, given the rival’s harsh remaining schedule.

While the Raiders finish off the season with a pair of tilts against non-playoff teams, the Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatoon Blades, the Rebels will face the Medicine Hat Tigers three times and the conference-leading Edmonton Oil Kings twice.

“I have no doubts in my mind that we are going to pull through into the playoffs,” Raiders centre Dakota Conroy told The Herald on Feb. 13.

With things as tight as they are, it may not be up to them.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. when the Raiders take on the Ice on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre. 

2014 WHL playoff picture

Prince Albert Raiders -- 29-30-5 -- 63 points: Ninth 

  • Games remaining: Eight
  • Home: Kootenay, Moose Jaw, Calgary, Brandon, Saskatoon
  • Away: Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon

Red Deer Rebels -- 30-30-4 -- 64 points: Eight

  • Games remaining: Eight
  • Home: Medicine Hat, Swift Current, Kootenay, Edmonton
  • Away: Kootenay, Medicine Hat, Medicine Hat, Edmonton 

Brendan Wheat Kings -- 30-26-8 -- 68 points: Seventh

  • Games remaining: Eight
  • Home: Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina
  • Away: Saskatoon, Swift Current, Prince Albert, Regina 

Potential playoff suitors

Should the Raiders make it to the playoffs, they are likely to be there as the eighth seed, taking on the regular season conference champions.

On Friday, the Edmonton Oil Kings sit atop the conference with 91 points with their provincial rival Calgary Hitmen nipping at their heels with 89. 

With the Oil Kings and Hitmen the biggest contenders for the conference crown, they too are the Raiders most likely playoff foes. 

The Hitmen are the only team in the conference the Raiders have yet to beat, posting a record of 0-3-0 against them so far this season. 

The Raiders have fared better against the Oil Kings, posting a record of 2-2-0.

The last time the Raiders met the Hitmen in the post-season, they were ousted in the 1998-1999 Eastern Conference final as the Hitmen went on to win the championship with a 4-1 series triumph over the Kamloops Blazers. 

andrew.schopp@paherald.sk.ca

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