For at least a day, the Brandon Wheat Kings are alone atop the Western Hockey League's East Division.
Rihards Bukarts scored twice as the Wheat Kings posted a 4-3 road win over the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday, putting them one point ahead of the Regina Pats and two up on the Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos, who lost 5-2 to the Kootenay Ice on Saturday, play the Prince Albert Raiders on Sunday and have a chance to catch the Wheat Kings, although Brandon will have two games in hand.
"In terms of getting what we came for, the two points are big," said Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon, whose team is on a three-game winning streak. "We wanted to build off our win (Friday) night at home against Swift Current, where we pulled into a share of the lead with Swift Current, and we didn't want to waste that effort by not following up here tonight."
The Wheat Kings (25-17-4-0) looked at various times on Saturday like they were at risk of wasting Friday's 6-5 win over the Broncos. After controlling the first period, taking a 1-0 lead on a Richard Nejezchleb goal and a 16-6 shots into the intermission, they struggled in much of the second frame and part of the third.
Bukarts was there to lift them up at key times, though. After the Blades (13-32-1-3) took a 2-1 second-period lead on a pair of Logan Harland goals, Bukarts tied the score just past the midway point of the game. Ryan Pilon's power-play goal put Brandon back in front going into the third period, but Connor Sanvido scored for Saskatoon on a three-on-one power-play rush to tie the game 7:07 into the third. Again, Bukarts responded, deflecting in Rene Hunter's point shot for the winning goal, with 7:34 to play.
"They really were (timely)," McCrimmon said of Bukarts' goals, adding that the Latvian rookie was Brandon's best player from start to finish. "He had the puck a lot, and he had lots of good looks and scored two goal-scorers goals."
Curtis Honey made 33 saves for his first win since Dec. 7, including a key glove stop on Blade Brett Stovin late in the game. Alex Moodie stopped 43 shots for the Blades.
ONE-TIMERS: Brandon was 1-for-3 on the power play, while Saskatoon was 2-for-5 … The Wheat Kings' 25 wins are one more than their total from last season … Nejezchleb leads Brandon with 25 goals … Wheat Kings C John Quenneville is on a five-game point-scoring streak (five goals, three assists) … Brandon scratched D Eric Roy (illness), LW Tyler Coulter and LW Brett Kitt … The Wheat Kings next game is on Wednesday night (6:30, CKLQ), when they visit the Broncos.