Well, the first playoff series in six years for the Saskatoon Blades is complete and they have yet to lose. A sweep of the Moose Jaw Warriors was the result for the Blades. Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen scored 4:36 into OT in Game 4 to send the Blades to Round 2 for a date with the Prince Albert Raiders, a team who also swept their first round series.
The series was close on the score thanks to Warriors’ goalie Adam Evanoff but Saskatoon carried the play for the most part outshooting the Warriors 154-95 and not allowing more than 26 shots in a single game. The Warriors got out to a 2-0 lead in Game 1 but the Blades were able to fight their way back and win off a bad angle shot by Chase Wouters in OT. Game 2 was a slower affair with not many chances. Max Gerlach got two goals and the Blades won 3-1. Game 3 was when Saskatoon really started to carry the play, Moose Jaw found a way to fight back only to take back-to-back delay of game penalties and have Gerlach score the game winner with under five minutes to go. Game 4 was similar to Game 3 in the sense that the Blades lead 1-0, 2-1 and eventually won 3-2 in overtime. As you can see, the scores were all close but it was clear who dictated the play.
So, what went wrong for the Warriors? In the series preview I mentioned they needed to get contributions from anyone outside of their clear cut five best players. But it was actually the top five Warriors who failed to contribute much. Rookie forward Brayden Tracey missed Games 1 and 2 due to injury, he came back in Game 3 but was clearly injured. WHL Regular Season assists leader Justin Almeida didn’t register a point and went minus five, it was later announced he was playing with a torn labrum since the Super Series game in November. Tristin Langan was was only able to get one point at even strength (one on the power play and one short-handed) and went minus-two. Captain Josh Brook had three assists but hurt his team more than he helped them by taking 14 minutes in penalties (all minors) highlighted by a delay of game penalty in Game 3 that lead to the game winning goal. Canucks prospect Jett Woo had one assist and was a minus five while his defense partner, 20-year-old Dalton Hamaliuk was a minus five as well. Carson Denomie was the most productive Warrior getting four points in the series. Head coach Tim Hunter was absent from the post-game handshake line to end the series.
The Blades replicated their regular season success by spreading out the scoring. The only forwards to not get a point play on the fourth line, although Tristen Robins scored in Game 4. Max Gerlach led the Blades with five goals as he scored in every single game. Kirby Dach had five points as he recorded at least one in every game, Chase Wouters had three points highlighted by his Game 1 OT winner. The backend was solid, Dawson Davidson, Nolan Kneen and Brandon Schuldhaus all had three assists while shutting down the Warriors top line. In goal Nolan Maier made some key saves to keep the Blades in Game 1 and to keep Game 4 tied, as he finished with a 1.94 GAA and .916% save percentage.
The Blades will open up their second round series in Prince Albert on April 5th. Stay tuned for the preview of that series which will be released closer to puck drop.