WHL Roundup: Final teams clinch in Western Conference as Americans, T-Birds punch playoff tickets

Brian Liesse/Doug Love


Moose Jaw Warriors (4) at Prince Albert Raiders (6)
Moose Jaw (49-15-1-2) // Prince Albert (31-25-9-2)

The Prince Albert Raiders came through with a big win against the league-leading Moose Jaw Warriors Friday, extending their winning streak to eight straight games.

Raiders’ captain Curtis Miske and Kody McDonald each scored a pair of goals while Jayden Halbgewachs (San Jose Sharks) responded with a pair of goals and an assist in the losing cause.

2018 NHL Draft prospect Cole Fonstad added a goal and three points, opening the scoring in the game with the only goal of the first, followed by McDonald’s first of the game early in the second to double Prince Albert’s lead.

Branden Klatt got one back for the Warriors minutes later to get them on the board, but goals from McDonald and Jordy Stallard (Winnipeg Jets) quickly built a three-goal lead for the home side. Halbgewachs and Miske would then trade goals in the later stages of the middle period to keep the Raiders’ lead at three after 40 minutes.

Miske opened the third period with his second of the contest and 25th of the season before Justin Almeida’s 40th of the season and Halbgewachs’ 66th of the campaign brought the Warriors to within a pair of goals late.

Ian Scott (Toronto Maple Leafs) earned his 23rd victory of the season, making 21 saves on 25 shots. Adam Evanoff took the loss while making 17 saves on 23 shots. In addition to his goal, Stallard added an assist for the multi-point game. Parker Kelly (Ottawa Senators) had a pair of assists.

The win moved the Raiders five points up on the Saskatoon Blades for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Warriors remained a point ahead of the Swift Current Broncos for first in the league standings, Eastern Conference and East Division.

The two teams will close out their regular season series Tuesday, March 13 (7:00 p.m. CST) at Mosaic Place.

Swift Current Broncos (3) at Brandon Wheat Kings (6)
Swift Current (47-15-4-2) // Brandon (36-26-3-2)

Evan Weinger and the Brandon Wheat Kings denied the Swift Current Broncos a chance to to climb into first place in the WHL Friday night following a 6-3 victory at Westoba Place.

Kaden Elder and Beck Malenstyn (Washington Capitals) scored in the first period to give the Broncos a 2-0 lead, but the Wheat Kings would roar back in the second.

Cole Reinhardt’s 17th of the season and a pair of goals from Evan Weinger helped to tie up the game after two periods as the Broncos responded late with Tyler Steenbergen’s (Arizona Coyotes) 46th of the season.

That would be all the offence from the Broncos on Friday though as goals from Ty Lewis (Colorado Avalanche), Linden McCorrister, and Weinger’s hat trick goal propelled the Wheat Kings to victory while Dylan Myskiw stopped all five Swift Current shots in the final 20 minutes to hold them off the board.

Braden Schneider and Stelio Mattheos (Carolina Hurricanes) each added a pair of helpers in the victory. Aleksi Heponiemi (Florida Panthers), Colby Sissons (New Jersey Devils), and Connor Horning had the assists for Swift Current as Stuart Skinner (Edmonton Oilers) stopped 27 of 32 shots in the loss.

Both teams took four wins away from the regular season series between the two clubs.

The win helped the Wheat Kings remain in a comfortable position in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They still trail the Regina Pats by a slim margin for third in the East Division.

Calgary Hitmen (5) at Saskatoon Blades (4) — OT
Calgary (21-36-8-2) // Saskatoon (32-31-3-1)

Tristen Nielsen may be part of the exciting future for the Calgary Hitmen in their core of young forwards, but Friday night at the SaskTel Centre, he gave his club a glimpse of that future in the present.

Nielsen’s first career hat trick was capped off in overtime as the Hitmen picked up a wild 5-4 win over the Saskatoon Blades.

Carson Focht added a goal and three points and Mark Kastelic scored a beautiful goal to power the Hitmen to their 21st victory of the season.

A six-goal first period saw the Gage Ramsay and Nielsen trade goals before Josh Paterson’s 30th of the season and Mark Rubinchik’s third of the season created a 3-1 lead for Saskatoon.

The Hitmen would strike back through with goals from Kastelic and Nielsen’s second of the game to keep the score tied after 20.

Following a scoreless second, Braylon Shmyr and Focht traded goals in the third before Nielsen was sprung on a breakaway by Egor Zamula and closed out the game 1:58 into overtime.

The assist was Zamula’s third of the game. Max Gerlach and Chase Wouters each added a pair of assists in the overtime loss.

Nick Schneider (Calgary Flames) stopped 20 of 24 shots for the 95th win of his WHL career. Nolan Maier stopped 30 of 35 shots in the loss.

The loss kept the Blades five points behind the Prince Albert Raiders for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Despite the victory for Calgary, a win by Red Deer officially eliminated the Hitmen from playoff contention.

Regina Pats (2) at Kootenay ICE (1) — OT
Regina (37-25-5-1) // Kootenay (25-38-4-1)

The Regina Pats waltzed into the 2018 WHL Playoffs in style Friday as captain Sam Steel (Anaheim Ducks) scored his 29th and 30th goals of the season for a 2-1 overtime victory against the Kootenay ICE.

Steel opened the scoring 17:25 into the second period with his 29th of the season, but Alec Baer responded with his 27th of the campaign for the ICE in the third period, forcing overtime.

It took Steel only 31 seconds to secure the Pats an extra point and the victory as he beat Duncan McGovern on Regina’s 34th shot of the night.

Max Paddock was solid for the Pats again, stopping 19 of 20 shots. McGovern put forth a valiant effort as well, stopping 32 shots.

Matt Bradley, Cale Fleury (Montreal Canadiens), John Mahura (Anaheim Ducks), and Cameron Hebig (Edmonton Oilers) each had an assist for the Pats in the game. Brett Davis (Dallas Stars) and Cameron Hausinger had the assists for the ICE.

The Pats secured the aforementioned playoff spot while the ICE’s single point, combined with a victory by the Red Deer Rebels put Kootenay on the cusp of elimination in the playoff picture.

Red Deer Rebels (4) at Lethbridge Hurricanes (1)
Red Deer (25-30-10-3) // Lethbridge (32-29-6-0)

Entering Friday, the Red Deer Rebels had not won in Lethbridge since January 13, 2015.

With the playoff race heating up though, the Rebels continued to turn the impossible into possible as Mason McCarty and Brandon Hagel (Buffalo Sabres) each tallied three-point games to secure two critical points against the Hurricanes.

2018 NHL Draft prospect Calen Addison got the Hurricanes on the board first, but fellow draft prospect Kristian Reichel responded with his 30th of the season to tie the game up.

It was all Rebels from that point on as Hagel scored a short-handed goal early in the second while McCarty tallied twice in the third to put the emphasis on the victory. Riley Lamb returned to his superb form in net with 26 saves on 27 shots.

Logan Flodell stopped 22 of 25 shots in the loss.

The Rebels remained within shot of clinching home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but remain on a course to meet the Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs regardless, seven points behind Lethbridge with four games left to play. A win by the Medicine Hat Tigers increased the distance between them and the Hurricanes to eight points with five games left in Lethbridge’s season.

Edmonton Oil Kings (4) at Medicine Hat Tigers (6)
Edmonton (19-41-6-2) // Medicine Hat (35-25-8-0)

Mark Rassell became the fourth player in the WHL to reach the 50-goal milestone this season as the Medicine Hat Tigers moved ever closer to clinching the Central Division title following a 6-4 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings Friday.

Elijah Brown added a goal and three points while David Quenneville (New York Islanders) tallied four assists in the Tigers’ 35th victory of the season.

Goals from Rassell, Brown and Ryan Chyzowski’s 20th of the year built up a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes as the Oil Kings responded from the stick of David Kope.

Ethan Cap and captain Colton Kehler found the back of the net for the Oil Kings in the second, but Jaeger White’s 10th of the campaign kept the Tigers ahead heading to the third.

Conner McDonald continued his impressive season with his eighth of the year for the Oil Kings to tie things up in the third, but late goals from Josh Williams and James Hamblin lifted Medicine Hat to victory. Linus Nassen (Florida Panthers) added a pair of assists in the victory.

Michael Bullion continued his strong play with 27 saves on 31 shots. Todd Scott stopped 24 of 30 shots in the loss.

The win increased the Tigers’ lead in the Central Division to eight points with four games remaining in their regular season.

Kelowna Rockets (4) at Kamloops Blazers (2)
Kelowna (39-22-5-2) // Kamloops (29-34-1-4)

The Kelowna Rockets doubled up the Kamloops Blazers by a 4-2 score Friday to end the latter’s playoff hopes.

Marek Skvrne’s third goal of the season came while the Rockets were short-handed 5:59 into the first period and Carsen Tawrynski (Philadelphia Flyers) scored 6:59 into the second to double the Rockets’ lead.

Orrin Centazzo would score minutes later on a penalty shot, but goals from Dillon Dube (Calgary Flames) and Kole Lind (Vancouver Canucks) put the finishing touches on the victory while Nolan Kneen added a late power play goal.

2018 NHL Draft prospect Kyle Topping contributed a pair of assists while Dube added a helper for the multi-point effort.

Brodan Salmond stopped 36 of 38 shots for the victory. Dylan Ferguson (Vegas Golden Knights) stopped 34 of 38 in the loss.

The two teams will conclude their regular season series Saturday at Prospera Place.

The Rockets’ continued to lead the B.C. Division by three points over the Victoria Royals after both teams won Friday.

Vancouver Giants (2) at Tri-City Americans (6)
Vancouver (34-24-6-3) // Tri-City (33-24-8-1)

The Tri-City Americans clinched a spot in the 2018 WHL playoffs on their own terms Friday, scoring a 6-2 victory over the visiting Vancouver Giants.

Sasha Mutala led the way with a pair of goals and three points, Morgan Geekie (Carolina Hurricanes) added a goal and three points and the pair of Juuso Valimaki (Calgary Flames) and Jordan Topping each contributed a goal and an assist in the victory.

Ty Ronning (New York Rangers) got the Giants on the board first, but the Americans responded with three goals in a 2:13 span late in the first as Geekie, Topping and Mutala all found the back of the net.

Nolan Yaremko increased the Ams’ lead to three after 40 minutes with his 20th of the season while Mutala and Valimaki added goals in the third, bookending Dylan Plouffe’s ninth of the season.

Captain Michael Rasmussen (Detroit Red Wings) added a pair of assists while Jake Bean (Carolina Hurricanes), Dylan Coghlan (Vegas Golden Knights), and Parker AuCoin each added a single assist in the victory.

Giants’ captain Tyler Benson (Edmonton Oilers), James Malm, Davis Koch, and Bowen Byram each had an assist for the Giants in the loss.

Patrick Dea turned aside 27 of 29 shots for the victory. David Tendeck stopped 34 of 40 shots in the loss.

The Americans’ attention will now turn to positioning in the wild card and U.S. Division. They sit eight points behind the Spokane Chiefs for third in the division and one point ahead of the Seattle Thunderbirds who are in the second wild card spot.

The loss kept the Giants in third in the B.C. Division five points behind the Victoria Royals.

Prince George Cougars (3) at Victoria Royals (4) — OT  
Prince George (23-36-5-4) // Victoria (38-25-4-2)

As the Victoria Royals donned some gorgeous jerseys for their WHL Suits Up with Don Cherry to Promote Organ Donation Presented by RE/MAX game, Tanner Kaspick (St. Louis Blues) kept the Royals looking stylish in the B.C. Division standings.

His overtime goal, his second of the game, lifted the Royals to a 4-3 victory over the visiting Prince George Cougars Friday, keeping their B.C. Division title hopes alive.

It was Dante Hannoun opening the scoring with the only goal of the first, followed by Kaspick’s 24th of the season. early in the second to build a two-goal lead. The Cougars refused to roll over though as Reid Perepeluk’s first career WHL goal late in the second ignited a comeback effort from the Cougars.

Early third period goals from Rhett Rhinehart and Josh Maser helped the Cougars take a 3-2 lead. Tyler Soy (Anaheim Ducks) would save the Royals from defeat with his 36th of the season though, followed by Kaspick’s 25th of the season 2:39 into overtime.

Dean McNabb stopped 30 of 33 shots before giving way to Griffen Outhouse, who hung on to record the victory, stopping all five shots sent his way. Tavin Grant stopped 39 of 43 shots in the loss.

With the win, the Royals continued to sit three points behind the Kelowna Rockets for the B.C. Division lead with three games remaining. The Cougars and Royals close out their season series Sunday in Victoria.

Spokane Chiefs (2) at Seattle Thunderbirds (4) 
Spokane (39-23-3-2) // Seattle (32-25-8-2)

The Seattle Thunderbirds will have the opportunity to defend their Ed Chynoweth Cup victory from the 2016-17 season.

The T-Birds rolled into the post-season with a 4-2 win at home over the Spokane Chiefs Friday, becoming the eighth and final team in the Western Conference to secure a playoff berth with plenty of positioning left to take care of.

Zack Andrusiak and Austin Strand (Los Angeles Kings) each scored twice for the T-Birds while Nolan Volcan added three assists and Liam Hughes stopped 25 of 27 shots.

Filip Kral and Riley Woods responded for the Chiefs in the loss. Both players assisted on each other’s goals to finish with multi-point games. Nolan Reid and Cedric Chenier had the other assists for Spokane.

Donovan Neuls added a pair of helpers while Turner Ottenbreit and Matthew Wedman each added a single assist.

Donovan Buskey stopped 18 of 22 shots in the loss.

The T-Birds win, combined with the Chiefs loss kept the Thunderbirds in contention for third place in the U.S. Division and one point behind the Tri-City Americans for the first wild card spot.

The Chiefs can move into second place in the U.S. Division, but can no longer secure first, handing home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs to the Everett Silvertips.

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