Prince Albert Raiders forward Reid Gardiner ends 20-game goal drought, ripping a shot past Kootenay Ice goaltender Mackenzie Skapski in the third period at the Art Hauser Centre on Saturday evening. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
As the Prince Albert Raiders push to make the playoffs, centre Reid Gardiner hopes his first goal in 20 games will get him going at just the right time.
On Saturday, Gardiner netted his first goal since Jan. 18, an insurance marker to lift the Raiders to a 4-2 win over the Kootenay Ice at the Art Hauser Centre.
Needless to say, Gardiner’s late third period goal to end the drought was a weight off his shoulders.
“It was a huge relief,” Gardiner said. “Going 20 games without scoring was obviously frustrating, I thought I was still playing well but the bounces just weren’t going my way.”
Scoring 34 points up until Dec. 31, Gardiner’s offensive production began fall off in the following two months, as he scored just five points in January and February.
With the Raiders tied with the Red Deer Rebels for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, now’s a better time than ever for the 18-year-old Humboldt native to explode onto the scoresheet.
“Some of the guys were saying if I get one, they will come in bunches,” Gardiner said. “I really hope it will pick up just as we are heading into the last stretch of the regular season and hopefully into the playoffs.”
Gardiner’s offensive production to begin the season did not go unnoticed as the NHL released its 2014 draft prospect midterm rankings with Gardiner ranked 40th among North American Skaters.
Though it is unknown how his recent dry spell will hurt that ranking, a return to his point-per-game prowess seen earlier this season certainly won’t hurt as the Raiders come down the stretch.
After Saturday’s triumph over the Ice, the Raiders will look to string a pair of wins together as they host the Moose Jaw Warriors on Tuesday.
The 10th place Warriors have been troublesome for the Raiders this season, leading the eight-game season series five games to one.
“They work hard and they are a good team in their structure,” Gardiner said of the Warriors, who are eliminated from playoff contention. “Whether it’s bad breaks or good goaltending we’ve faced, things just haven’t gone our way (against them).”
A big thorn in the Raiders side has been Warriors leading scorer Brayden Point who has collected 11 points in six games against his provincial rivals this season.
Point’s dominance over the Raiders includes an explosive six-point night in the two team’s last meeting where the Raiders were trounced 7-1 on Feb. 7 at the Art Hauser Centre.
The Raiders stretch run includes a pair of games against the Warriors and the Saskatoon Blades, a schedule comparatively easier than that of the Rebels, who Gardiner said his team are unavoidably watching closely.
“It’s always in the back of our heads, how can it not be with how close we are,” Gardiner said of the Raiders ongoing dogfight with the Rebels for a playoff spot. “We just want to take care of what we can control and the other intangibles will take care of themselves.”
On Monday, the Raiders and Rebels were knotted up at 65 points for the final playoff seed, while the Brandon Wheat Kings rode a four-game point streak to a six-point lead as they establish a firm grip on a playoff berth.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Tuesday when the Raiders take on the Warriors at the Art Hauser Centre.
2014 WHL playoff picture
Prince Albert Raiders -- 30-30-5 -- 65 points: Tied Eighth
- Games remaining: Seven
- Home: Moose Jaw, Calgary, Brandon, Saskatoon
- Away: Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon
Red Deer Rebels -- 30-30-5 -- 65 points: Tied Eighth
- Games remaining: Seven
- Home: Medicine Hat, Swift Current, Kootenay, Edmonton
- Away: Kootenay, Medicine Hat, Medicine Hat, Edmonton
Brandon Wheat Kings -- 31-26-9 -- 71 points: Seventh
- Games remaining: Six
- Home: Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina
- Away: Swift Current, Prince Albert, Regina