A late game smile tells the story as Prince Albert Raiders forward Collin Valcourt celebrates his empty netter, which put his team up 6-4 against the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday evening at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon. It clinched at least a one-game playoff tiebreaker for the Raiders. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
SASKATOON - With a 6-4 triumph over the Saskatoon Blades, the Prince Albert Raiders did all they could on Saturday at the Credit Union Centre as their attention now turns to the out-of-town scoreboard.
The Raiders second-straight win guarantees them a one-game playoff for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot, but a Red Deer Rebels loss on Sunday will clinch a post-season berth.
Scoring three unanswered goals in the first period of Friday's tilt with the Blades, the Raiders failed to come out the gate with the same level of intensity on Saturday.
Raiders coach Cory Clouston said after a solid first couple of shifts, he noticed his team's lack of energy throughout the first period.
"I thought we really played nervous for the rest of the first period," Clouston said. "We were very quiet, the energy and the emotion wasn't there and they (Blades) came on that much stronger."
As the Raiders failed to swing the momentum in their favour in the first period, the Blades tested rookie backstop Nick McBride, outshooting the Raiders 14-7.
Just under seven minutes into the opening period, the Blades broke through onto the scoresheet as centre Chase Clayton netted his 11th of the season.
With just over six minutes to go in the opening period, Blades leading scorer Nikita Scherbak added to his squad's lead with a behind-the-net feed from left wing Cory Millette to carry a 2-0 lead into the second frame.
With the Raiders season on the line and the Blades looking to finish off their season on a high note, Clouston said it's the teams with nothing to lose that can be the most lethal.
"They wanted to play hard for their fans and they did," Clouston said of the Blades who finished their season 16-51-5. "Those are very dangerous teams to play. They are hungry, they know they don't have anything to lose, they are playing for pride, themselves and their fans."
About four minutes into the middle frame, forward Carson Perreaux ripped a wrist shot from the point past backstop Troy Trombley to cut into the Blades lead.
Just over a minute after Perreaux's 18th of the season, the Blades restored their two-goal advantage with a marker by right wing Graham Millar.
The Blades 3-1 lead would last all of 24 seconds as Jayden Hart ripped a shot through the pads of Trombley to once again cut the deficit down to one.
Midway through the second period, Scherbak took the game's first penalty and the Raiders capitalized on the ensuing power play.
After a one-time shot by Raiders defenceman Sawyer Lange's missed a wide open cage, Dakota Conroy fed centre Leon Draisaitl who buried the puck from a wide angle to tie things up at threes.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the ice, Clouston agreed that McBride was giving the Raiders one of the best games of his career.
"I thought he played very very well in the last part of the second and third periods," Clouston said of McBride, who made 39 saves on Saturday. "We've said all along that when we get good goaltending we're a pretty good team."
While the Blades were afforded a five-on-three advantage in the second half of the middle frame, McBride did all he could to bail the Raiders out.
After the 17-year-old keeper made a series of big stops, robbing Scherbak with a spectacular glove save, Blades Clayton eventually stuffed his second of the night in the net to carry a 4-3 lead into the third period.
With the Raiders working on a second period power play which carried over into the third, Trombley gave up a juicy rebound that Conroy pounced on and stuffed into the wide open net to tie the game early in the frame.
In what was probably the most tense final minutes of a hockey the Raiders had played all season long, they continued to apply pressure in the Blades zone and finally with two minutes and 19 seconds to go, Hart snuck the puck into the short side of the net.
As former Blade Colin Valcourt stuffed the puck into the empty-net, Hart's 14th of the season would stand as the game-winner as the Raiders hung on to stay alive in the playoff race.
When asked what he attributes the Raiders ability to claw back into the playoff picture to, Clouston looked to McBride, who has been phenomenal between the pipes over the last seven games.
"Nick's been good, really that's all it is," Clouston said. "We were losing games where we were outshooting opponents, losing games we had no business losing and Nick had come in and played extremely well."
The Raiders are now ahead of the Rebels by a pair of points in the standings, hanging on to the eighth playoff spot.
RAIDER NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders on Saturday were Graeme Craig, Craig Leverton and Tim Vanstone ... Former Raider Tyler Dea was scratched for the Blades on Saturday. Dea has posted one assist in 24 games with the Blades this season after he was dealt by the Raiders prior to the WHL trade deadline ... The Raiders entered Saturday's tilt with a record of 6-1-0 against the Blades this season. The Raiders are 18-20-2 against their Bridge City rivals in the last five years.