© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Prince Albert Raiders coach Cory Clouston, flanked to his left by assistant coach Tim Leonard, watches the action intently in Saskatoon on Saturday evening. The Raiders face another must-win game on Tuesday evening to keep their season alive.
The Edmonton Oil Kings didn’t do the Prince Albert Raiders any favours on Sunday.
As the Oil Kings took on the Red Deer Rebels on Sunday at Rexall Place, some of their top players including Griffin Reinhart, Curtis Lazar, Edgars Kulda and Henrik Samuelsson, were scratched from the lineup.
An Oil Kings win on Sunday would have meant a playoff spot for the Raiders, however the Rebels trounced the depleted Eastern Conference leaders 5-0, clinching a one-game playoff for the final berth.
“It is what it is,” Raiders coach Cory Clouston said of the Oil Kings scratches. “They (Oil Kings) can answer those questions themselves, for us we just have to worry about Tuesday before we even consider who Edmonton has or doesn’t have in their lineup.”
According to WHL procedure, if two teams tie in points for the final playoff spot, they will face each other in an extra game to determined which team heads to the post-season.
On Tuesday, the Raiders and Rebels will play the first such game since 2009, when the Oil Kings triumphed over the Raiders 2-1 in overtime before being swept in the first round by the Calgary Hitmen.
As the Raiders eagerly watched Sunday’s fate-deciding tilt, left wing Collin Valcourt said he saw the one-game playoff coming.
“We saw what was happening when Edmonton started scratching people,” Valcourt said following an early practice on Monday. “They had nothing to lose so we weren’t overly shocked.”
Taking the season series with the Raiders three games to one, the Rebels clinched home-ice advantage for Tuesday’s game.
The winner on Tuesday, will head to Edmonton on Saturday to begin the first round of the playoffs.
Facing a “must-win” situation in their home-and-home series with the Saskatoon Blades to close out the season, the Raiders are ready to face elimination one more time, Raiders captain Josh Morrissey said.
Noting that the Rebels first three wins in the season series came prior to the WHL trade deadline, Morrissey said the Raiders are a far sharper team now than earlier in the season.
“We have a lot of new players now,” Morrissey explained. “In the last little while we’ve been playing our best hockey. Going into this game we are pretty confident now in our abilities.”
A major factor on Tuesday will be Rebels starting goaltender Patrik Bartosak, who shut out the Raiders 5-0 on Jan. 22 at the Art Hauser Centre.
Bartosak, a Los Angeles Kings prospect, finished his regular season leading the league in saves, posting a record of 33-26-5.
Putting traffic in the Rebels crease will be the key to putting the puck past Bartosak on Tuesday, Morrissey said.
“If they can’t see it, they can’t stop it,” Morrissey said of going up against the Czech backstop who also posts the league’s third-best save percentage. “We are going to try and get bodies and pucks to the net, jam away at it. In a game seven type situation, sometimes it’s those little greasy ones that go in.”
With Brent Sutter, who coached the Rebels to a 2001 Memorial Cup Championship at the helm, the Rebels finished their regular season with a record identical to that of the Raiders who finished the 2014 campaign 35-32-5.
Along with Bartosak, the Raiders will need to keep their eyes on top prospects defenceman Haydn Fleury and center Conner Bleackley, projected to go in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Tuesday as the Raiders take on the Rebels for a playoff berth at the Enmax Centrium.
The Raiders will be hosting a watch party for the game in the Ches Leach Lounge of the Art Hauser Centre starting at 6:30 p.m.
Admission for the event will be $5, with all proceeds going to the Tim Bozon Trust Fund.
Valcourt named Denny’s WHL Player of the Week
On Monday, Valcourt became the second Raider this season to be named the Denny’s WHL Player of the Week.
Following the lead of Raiders centre Leon Draisaitl, who has received the honour twice this season, Valcourt took home the accolade in the final week of regular season play.
Valcourt finished off the 2014 WHL campaign riding a seven-game point streak, tallying six goals and eight assists in that span.