SASKATOON- 5 MOOSE JAW- 3
A WHL first round playoff preview took place Sunday afternoon in Saskatoon. The Saskatoon Blades and Moose Jaw Warriors will play Game 1 against each other on March 22nd. This series, along with Portland and Spokane are the only two series that are guaranteed to happen. Neither team had much to gain or lose in this series though. The only implications left for the Blades is to clinch second overall in the entire league, after clinching second in the East Division and Eastern Conference, (Prince Albert is first). The playoff style was in full force, but the Blades held Moose Jaw to just two power plays, just one lasted the full length.
“It’s going to be critical against these guys in the playoffs. They have one of the best power plays in the league cause they have some really good personnel over there. We’re going to have to play on the edge, and I thought our guys did a pretty good job of that tonight.” Blades head coach Mitch Love said of the discipline.
In the first period, the shot clock favoured the Blades 15-8 but the score favoured the Warriors 2-0. The game’s first goal was scored by 16-year-old rookie defenseman Daemon Hunt as his point shot had eyes and got by a screened Nolan Maier who didn’t even react to the shot because of the bodies in front of him.
Then Saskatoon’s Kyle Crnkovic had a burst of speed and drew a penalty shot. On the ensuing shot, Crnkovic tried to go backhand and slide it through the legs of Moose Jaw goalie Brodan Salmond who read it well. Moose Jaw’s second goal came on a four-on-four opportunity and it was 20-year-old Tristan Langan who came out of the corner and fired one over the blocker of Maier for his 49th of the season.
The second period ended at 3-2 for Moose Jaw. Similar to the first, the Blades carried most of the play, the shots were 11-2 Saskatoon at the media timeout.
Draft eligibles Kirby Dach and Brayden Tracy took coincidental penalties to make the teams skate four players a side. During the four-on-four Brandon Schuldhaus was forechecking and forced a turnover. The puck bounced to Chase Wouters who dropped to Max Gerlach and Gerlach fired home his 39th of the season to pull the Blades within one.
Just 20 seconds later it was Tristan Langan who became the second WHL player to score 50 goals (Portland’s Joachim Blichfeld was first) as Justin Almeida found him for the one timer. Three minutes later the Blades saw themselves on a 33 second five-on-three as Josh Brook and Kjell Kjemhus were in the box. Mitch Love called a Blades timeout for assistant coach Ryan Keller to get the power play in order.
Just four seconds into the five-on-three it was Ryan Hughes who poked the puck to WHL defensemen scoring leader Dawson Davidson as he got the Blades back within one.
In the final frame the Blades scored three unanswered. The first came just under two minutes into the period as Reece Harsch went across ice to Max Gerlach who then found Gary Haden cutting to the net as he potted home his 30th of the season to tie the game.
Just four minutes later, Josh Brook was unable to clear the puck by Schuldhaus and he found Max Gerlach went bardown on Brodan Salmond for his 40th.
The Gerlach goal ended Salmond’s night as he was replaced by Adam Evanoff. Gary Haden added an empty netter and made the final 5-3 Blades.
The final shots were 50-24 for Saskatoon. The teams took a few minutes to leave the ice after the final buzzer sounded, Jett Woo, Tristen Langan and Riley McKay were jawing the entire game and that seemed to boil over.
“Everything is over with those guys now, winning five out of six games against those guys means nothing. it’s going to be a grind, it was a grinding game. They started to fatigue playing three in three nights and we only had the game last night against Swift Current, so we had a little more juice. That’s a good hockey team over there and we’re going to have to be really sharp in our details,” Love said.
The Blades have just two regular season games left, the annual home and home series with the Prince Albert Raiders.