Prince Albert Raiders forward Gage Quinney wraps the puck around Saskatoon Blades goaltender Troy Trombley to put his team up 3-0 during first period action at Art Hauser Centre on Friday evening. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
The Prince Albert Raiders can breathe a sigh of relief, for now.
With a convincing 7-2 win over the Saskatoon Blades on Friday at the Art Hauser Centre, the Raiders kept their playoff hopes alive, tying for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final post-season berth.
A trio of unanswered goals in the first period lifted the Raiders to their seventh win against the Blades this season as rookie backstop Nick McBride turned away 18 shots.
Raiders coach Cory Clouston agreed that from the opening faceoff on, there was no indication his team would lose Friday's tilt.
"We wanted to get off to a good start and we did," Clouston said. "We wanted to make sure we set the tone early."
As the Raiders revolving door between the pipes continued to spin on Friday, the 17-year-old goalie found himself back in net after overage keeper Cole Cheveldave surrendered seven goals on Wednesday against the Regina Pats.
The Raiders got the jump on the Blades early, scoring a pair of goals in the game's opening two minutes.
Just over a minute into the game, Raiders centre Reid Gardiner put a shot on net, which left wing Calder Brooks chipped away at to beat Blades backstop Troy Trombley. Thirty two seconds later, centre Leon Draisaitl buried his 37th of the season to give the Raiders an early 2-0 lead.
Keeping their feet on the gas, the Raiders dominated the Blades zone, pouring 17 shots on Trombley in the first period.
Midway through the opening frame, forward Gage Quinney added a third answered goal, netting a rebound as the Raiders carried a three-goal lead into the second period.
As the Raiders attack slowed slightly in the middle frame, the Blades upped theirs for a brief period. After testing McBride with a series of shots, the Blades eventually broke through onto the score sheet as rookie centre Mitch Lipon cut the deficit down to two with his sixth marker of the season.
"I thought we came out without the same intensity in the second period," Clouston said of what he felt was the Raiders only blemish on Friday. "It took us about five or six minutes to get our game back but once we did, we were fine."
With McBride standing his ground to keep the Raiders lead intact, former Blade Collin Valcourt deked the puck past Trombley to net his third goal in as many games and carry a 4-1 lead into the final period.
Fifty two seconds into the third frame, the Raiders put the game out of reach, extending their lead to four goals as centre Dakota Conroy beat Trombley from an awkward angle.
With a key victory firmly in their sights, Valcourt and defenceman Josh Morrissey would add insult to injury with the Raiders sixth and seventh markers.
Playing with the same high level of intensity throughout the night, Clouston said the Raiders offensive onslaught in the Blades zone was brought on by contributions from all four lines.
"We shortened our bench a bit towards the end," Clouston said. "We wanted to play hard right to the end and I thought our young guys did a good job of that."
At the other end of the ice, the seemingly deflated Blades struggled to generate solid scoring chances in the third period. Although squeaking a meaningless marker past McBride, he remained vigilant to cruise to his 11th win of the season.
With their triumph over the Blades the Raiders are back in playoff position. Although the Brandon Wheat Kings beat the Regina Pats 4-3 in overtime on Friday, the Raiders can clinch a one-game playoff for the eighth seed with a win and a Wheaties regulation loss on Saturday.
The Raiders are right back at it on Saturday to close out their regular season, taking on the Blades at the Credit Union Centre.
"We know Saturday night is going to be a tough game from the standpoint of what's on the line," Clouston said of the Raiders final regular season game. "We expect them (Blades) to play hard in their own building for their last game."
RAIDER NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders on Friday were Graeme Craig, Craig Leverton, Tim Vanstone and call-up Brennan Riddle … Craig remains sidelined with an upper-body injury sustained on Saturday against the Brandon Wheat Kings ... On Wednesday against the Regina Pats, Raiders centre Leon Draisaitl was held off the score sheet for the first time in March. Draisaitl has tallied eight goals and nine assists this month and on Friday, became the first Raider since Steve Kelly in 1996 to reach the 100-point plateau … The Raiders have dominated their eight-game season series with the Blades, leading six games to one ... Raiders centre Chance Braid played his 200th game on Friday.