A four-game losing streak has put the Brandon Wheat Kings in line for a heck of a battle this week.
The Wheat Kings head into the final week of the Western Hockey League’s regular season in a three-way tie for the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots after a 3-2 road loss to the Prince Albert Raiders on Saturday.
The Raiders (33-30-3-2) pulled into a tie with the Wheat Kings (31-29-6-3) and the Red Deer Rebels (33-31-1-4) for seventh place, although Prince Albert has a game in hand.
The Wheat Kings host the Saskatoon Blades, who are last in the East Division, on Tuesday (7 p.m., Westman Place) before closing with a home-and-home series with the division-leading Regina Pats, and three wins would get Brandon no worse than a tiebreaker game for the last playoff spot.
"Our focus needs to be on Tuesday and the Saskatoon Blades and nothing else," Brandon assistant coach David Anning said. "It’s crucial that we get the two points on Tuesday and start getting a good feeling about our game moving forward here, and then we’ll worry about Regina as they come closer next weekend."
The Wheat Kings went into Saturday’s game missing some key pieces, starting at the top as head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon missed the game due to an illness. Making matters worse, team scoring leader Jayce Hawryluk was suspended after taking a charging major in Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Anning thought the Wheat Kings did well with what they had, leading 1-0 after a first-period goal by Rihards Bukarts and going into the final five minutes tied, but late goals 13 seconds apart by Calder Brooks and Leon Draisaitl put the game out of reach.
"It was a playoff-style game and tight-checking, hard-working," Anning said. "Chances were fairly limited overall for both sides, so for us, I think that we needed to have a little bit more urgency in the third period to get that go-ahead goal when we had the opportunity. I thought the work ethic was there, but we just needed a little more urgency to generate some more quality looks early on in the third period."
Draisaitl’s goal with 4:05 remaining proved to be vital as Bukarts scored again for Brandon with 19 seconds to play.
"The way we responded (to Brooks’s goal) was simply a big mistake that was basically a turnover that ended up in the back of our net right off the centre-ice faceoff," Anning said. "So obviously a mistake that we wanted back, and mistakes happen, but you can’t afford to go down two in a game like that so late in the third period."
ONE-TIMERS: Former Wheat Kings RW Dakota Conroy scored a second-period goal for the Raiders and assisted on Draisaitl’s winner … Brandon G Jordan Papirny stopped 34 shots, while G Nick McBride made 22 saves for Prince Albert … The Raiders were 1-for-2 on the power play and were never short-handed … The length of Hawryluk’s suspension is expected to be determined early this week … Brandon RW Peter Quenneville and RW Jens Meilleur are both out week-to-week with lower-body injuries … Prince Albert D Graeme Craig was injured in a second-period collision with Bukarts and left the game … If two teams are tied for the final playoff spot, the squad with the most wins hosts the tiebreaker game. The Raiders and Rebels both have two more wins than the Wheat Kings … D Jordan Thomson of Wawanesa has decided to stay in Saskatoon for the season and scored his first goal as a Blade on Saturday.