Playoff hopes hang in the balance as Raiders host Blades

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Andrew Schopp
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Prince Albert Raiders left wing Collin Valcourt carries the puck against his former team, the Saskatoon Blades. Valcourt is riding a four-game point streak, scoring seven points in that span as he prepares to take on his former teammates facing elimination on Friday. Herald photo by Perry Bergson 

So it’s come to this.

As the Prince Albert Raiders playoffs hopes hang in the balance, a loss in either game of their home-and-home series against the Saskatoon Blades to close out the season could spell the end of their campaign.

Trailing both the Red Deer Rebels and Brandon Wheat Kings by a pair of points for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, a loss on Friday at the Art Hauser Centre coupled by wins for both teams will mathematically eliminate the Raiders from the playoffs.

Seventy games into the season with six against the Blades, the Raiders have had plenty of time to prepare for the potential season-ending tilt, captain Josh Morrissey said. 

“We know what we have to do,” Morrissey said of Friday’s tilt. “We need to go in there not gripping the stick too tight, not putting too much pressure on ourselves and be ready to go from the drop of the puck.” 

The good news for the Raiders; the Wheat Kings and Rebels will face off against playoff-bound teams on Friday and Saturday in the Regina Pats and Edmonton Oil Kings.

Meanwhile, the Raiders finish off their season against the 11th in the Eastern Conference Blades, leading the season series five games to one.

With a series of long winning and losing streaks this season, Morrissey agreed that the 2013-2014 campaign has been a roller coaster ride. Still, there is no use on dwelling on the games behind them.

“Sometimes it just seems that the hockey gods aren’t on your side, for us that has been a little bit of our year,” he said. “Right now though, we are not worried about the past 70 games, all we know is we have to win two.”

On Friday, the Raiders will likely be without the services of veteran defenceman Graeme Craig who is sidelined with an upper-body injury sustained on Saturday against the Wheat Kings.

As he emerged from a defensive-unit meeting, Morrissey said his fellow blue liners have been reviewing game tape, devising strategies to fill the void left by the injured overager. 

“He’s a key player for us, he plays a lot of minutes,” Morrissey said of Craig. “We need to have other guys step up and take on some of those minutes. We looked at some clips on some things we have to iron out, communication things we’ve maybe gotten away from in the last few games.”

Although it is unknown who will start between the pipes on Friday, Raiders rookie backstop Nick McBride has been thoroughly impressive as of late, collecting four wins in five consecutive starts.

Following a 6-3 loss to the Moose Jaw Warriors on Tuesday, the Raiders looked to overage keeper Cole Cheveldave on Wednesday as they were trounced by the Regina Pats 7-1.

Taking on a heavy load to close out the Raiders season, Morrissey has been impressed with McBride’s ability to handle the pressures of the starter role at 17-years-old. 

“Nick’s a calm, cool goaltender,” Morrissey said of McBride who posts a record of 10-7-2. “As long as you’re there to clear bodies and rebounds, he’s really effective. To come in (at that age) and play some pressure-filled games, he’s been great.”

Regardless of who starts in net, the rivalry between the Raiders and Blades will be in full swing on Friday as the East Division foes look to play the role of spoilers and put an end to the Raiders playoff hopes.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. when the Raiders take on the Blades on Friday at the Art Hauser Centre. The Raiders box office will be open until 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Raiders to hand out annual team awards following Friday’s game

Directly following the Raiders tilt with the Blades on Friday, GM Bruno Campese hopes fans will stick around, as the team will hand out their annual awards. 

The new league-wide format will see awards such as MVP and best defensive forward doled out immediately following Friday’s game.

“We’re excited,” Campese said. “It’s the first time we have an opportunity to share it, not only with billets and parents, but also our fan base which have really stuck behind us.”

Campese explained that the new format for team awards ceremonies was driven by the fact that teams, such as the Raiders who are playing games with critical playoff implications, can’t be distracted.

“We’ve got two humongous games coming up and we don’t want this to sidetrack us from what’s important,” he said. “We have two games we have to win, we (and the league) don’t want anything to distract the focus of the game itself.” 

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