Friday, 14 April 2017

WHL playoffs at its best – Pats stay alive in electric affair

Robbie Holmes (#32) shows his excitement after a goal from Connor Hobbs.
    REGINA – If you live in Regina and weren’t at the Brandt Centre on Friday night, you missed out.
    In one of the best playoff major junior playoff battles you might see anywhere, the host Regina Pats outlasted the visiting Swift Current Broncos 3-2 before a sellout crowd of 6,484 energetic spectators.     
    The win allowed the Pats to stay alive in the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two clubs cutting the Broncos edge in that department 3-2.
    The Broncos will try to close things out again on Saturday when the series switches back to Swift Current for a 7 p.m. start at the Credit Union i-Plex. The way things played out on Friday in Regina, the Broncos could have been heading home with a series win, if they were able to make just a couple of more plays.
Connor Hobbs controls the puck on the point for the Pats.
    Friday’s battle at the Brandt Centre was a raucous one. While the large majority of the rink were cheering for the host Pats, the Broncos arrived in the Saskatchewan capital with a healthy contingent of supporters that made a lot of noise.
    The action before the Pats 19th sellout crowd of the 2016-17 campaign on the ice was a seesaw battle that was filled with a number of story lines. The Pats, who were rated first in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings that were released on March 22, stormed out of the gate getting the first eight shots on goal.
    The Broncos didn’t get their first shot on net until the 7:10 mark of the opening frame, when Pats netminder Tyler Brown turned away Broncos winger Lane Pederson from the slot.
Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin scored a power-play goal in the third period.
    Momentum turned in the second half of the opening 20 minutes when the Pats paraded to the penalty box on a trio of minor infractions. On the third of those chances, Broncos defenceman Colby Sissons blasted home a shot from the point to give the visitors a 1-0 edge with 2:44 to play in the first. You could feel a hush fall over the Regina faithful, when that tally went in.
    The hosts came back to life on a power-play opportunity late in the frame, and Pats star centre Sam Steel snipped the equalizer through a screen with 13.5 seconds remaining in the opening 20 minutes.
    Early in the second, the Pats jumped ahead 3-1 scoring a pair of goals 38 seconds apart from each other. First, Pats star defenceman Connor Hobbs scored to give the hosts a 2-1 edge putting a puck home during a net scramble in front of the Swift Current goal.
Tyler Brown makes one of his 30 saves for the Pats.
    After that marker, the Pats went up 3-1 scoring a more finesse goal as Steel found linemate Nick Henry on a backdoor feed on a rush, and Henry made no mistake scoring into an empty cage.
    The Broncos had a big chance to cut the gap at the 8:52 mark of the third, when Pats winger Austin Wagner was given a major penalty for a knee-on-knee hit to Broncos overage centre Ryley Lindgren.     The infraction will trigger an automatic review by the WHL office for a possible suspension.
    Pats fans loudly showed their displeasure at the call during the ensuing Broncos power play. A few booed Lindgren, who remained in the game, every time he touched the puck.
    Near the end of that power-play chance, Swift Current pulled to within 3-2, when Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin tipped home a shot from the wall by star winger Tyler Steenbergen.
    In the final 90 seconds, the Broncos pulled netminder Jordan Papirny for the extra attacker, had pressure in the Regina zone, but couldn’t generate a solid scoring chance.
    Brown made 30 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Pats. Papirny turned away 33 shots including a third period penalty shot by Pats centre Braydon Buziak to take the loss in the Broncos net.
    The injury front also provided some dramatics also on Friday night. On the Swift Current side, Pederson left the contest in the first period with an injury and did not return.
Pats captain Adam Brooks dressed but didn’t play Friday.
    Pats import winger Filip Ahl returned to the lineup after missing three games undergoing tests for the mumps. 
    Pats captain Adam Brooks dressed for the first time after taking a knee-on-knee hit in his team’s Game 2 win over the Broncos. 
    He was pretty much pinned to the Regina bench and opened the gate occasionally for his teammates.
    Whether Brooks or Pederson plays in Game 6 on Saturday remains to be seen.
    With that said, Game 5 in Regina was a barnburner. Both sides look like they are far from finished in this set.
    Now see what the next chapter will look like in less than 24 hours, because it appears anything can happen.

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