Having dared to bring the word ‘playoffs’ back into their lexicon after a couple of strong weeks, the Brandon Wheat Kings are suddenly farther away from the Western Hockey League’s post-season than at any point this season.
The Saskatoon Blades scored three times in the second period on their way to a 4-1 victory over the Wheat Kings Tuesday at Westman Place. The result dropped the Wheat Kings 11 points behind the Blades and the Medicine Hat Tigers, who share seventh place and the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, marking the first time this season Brandon has been out of the post-season race by double digits in points.
Coming on the heels of a 3-2 shootout win over the Blades on Saturday in Saskatoon, Brandon defenceman Tyler Yaworski said the game was a letdown.
"It’s obviously disappointing," said Yaworski, whose team was 3-1 in its previous four games. "We had a big, character come-from-behind win in Saskatoon there and I think the effort was a little bit disappointing tonight."
Former Wheat King Mike Ferland was shut out in his first game back in Brandon, but the Blades (23-20-0-3) got enough scoring from other areas of their lineup. Lukas Sutter, Matej Stransky and Josh Nicholls scored in the second period — with Stransky and Nicholls finding the net 56 seconds apart — while Collin Valcourt had the other Saskatoon goal.
Tim McGauley, with his team-leading 15th goal, was the only member of the Wheat Kings (17-27-2-2) to get a puck past Andrey Makarov, who stopped 34 Brandon shots. Wheat Kings goalie Corbin Boes was even busier, making 42 saves as he faced 91 shots over the course of the two games against the Blades.
Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk said his team needs to get those shots against back down, while also doing more to generate second opportunities against the opposition goalies.
"We’ve got to make (Makarov) work and when you make a goalie work, it doesn’t matter who it is, he’s going to give up some rebounds," Gylywoychuk said. "… I didn’t think as a group our forwards worked very hard in either end of the ice and I think we’ve got to do a better job getting to the hard areas. We aren’t going to score a lot of pretty goals. We’ve got to score some hard-working goals and I don’t think we were prepared to do that tonight."
There was no scoring in the first period, although Brandon rookie Taylor Cooper had two great chances — one on a power play and one on a breakaway — and missed high on both.
The Blades missed out on a breakaway of their own as former Wheat King Brenden Walker got in alone on Boes during a Brandon power play but hit the post on his backhand deke.
The Blades took over by striking early and late in the second period, starting with Sutter’s goal 1:36 into the frame, before Stransky and Nicholls added to the lead with their back-to-back tallies. Stransky’s was a thing of beauty as he played the puck through the feet of Yaworski, then deked Boes and scored on a backhand.
McGauley replied with 5:42 left in the game to get the Wheat Kings back within two, but the Blades quickly responded as Valcourt converted Walker’s pass on a 2-on-1 rush.
The Wheat Kings go on the road this weekend for a three-game Alberta trip, starting Friday against the Red Deer Rebels (8:05 p.m., CKLQ), and Brandon forward Jens Meilleur said there’s a lesson to be learned from Tuesday’s performance.
"That was a wake-up call for us," said Meilleur, who assisted on McGauley’s goal. "Every game from here on out is a playoff game, so we’ve got to show up for every one."
ONE-TIMERS: Attendance was 3,498 … Brandon D Rene Hunter left the game after blocking a shot in the first period … The Wheat Kings scratched D Ryan Pulock (wrist, one week), LW/RW Richard Nejezchleb (hand, week-to-week), C Tyrel Seaman (concussion, indefinite), C/LW John Quenneville (groin, day-to-day) and LW Nick Buonassisi (ill) … LW Tyler Coulter of the Midget AAA Wheat Kings suited up for Brandon as an affiliate player.