Broncos fall behind in division title race
The Swift Current Broncos continue to remain in the middle of the pack of a heated playoff race in the Eastern Conference. They have fallen off the pace a bit from the East Division title and now have been forced to look back with teams chasing them down for the last couple playoff spots as well.
The Broncos finished the weekend with a win and a loss during an Alberta road trip that left them six points back of the red-hot Regina Pats for the division lead.
Friday, the visiting Broncos could not match the Eastern Conference leading Edmonton Oil Kings in a 41 loss.
Colby Cave opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal 2:54 into regulation. Lane Bauer tied the game at the 8:56 mark of the period with his seventh goal of the season.
Curtis Lazar and Riley Kieser scored goals 1:30 apart in the final 2:55 of the middle stanza to give the Oil Kings a 3-1 lead. Ashton Sautner scored 1:49 into the third period to seal away the win.
Eetu Laurikainen dropped to 20-19-0-5 with 16 saves on 20 shots over 41:49 of work. Landon Bow took over after the fourth goal and stopped all 16 shots he faced. Tristan Jarry made 25 saves to improve to 38-12-1-1 for the Oil Kings.
“We played a real good game,” explained Broncos Head Coach and General Manager Mark Lamb. “We came out, we did what we had to. Defensively we were really strong. We scored a shorthanded goal, which we hadn’t done, getting up in a game, we have been starting slow. So we did what we had to.”
The Oil Kings broke the game open with goals 1:30 apart in the final 2:55 of the second period.
“In the second period we made a couple mistakes and it is 3-1. That’s what happens when you play against a team like that. They don’t change, they just keep coming at you and let you make mistakes. You look at the goals and they were deflected and they were hit so it was a tough night for Laurikainen also,” said Lamb.
Saturday, the Broncos scored four unanswered goals to end a two-game losing streak on the road. Andrew Johnson and Coda Gordon both scored twice to lift the Broncos to a 5-3 win over the host Red Deer Rebels.
Johnson’s second goal of the game was the game winner when he scored with 7:27 left in regulation for a 4-3 lead before Gordon scored an empty net goal to seal the win.
Bow picked up the win with 31 saves, his first win since Dec. 28.
Taz Burman suffered the loss, allowing four goals on 32 shots.
The Broncos trailed 3-1 midway through the period before goals from Gordon and Jay Merkley to tie the game.
Graham Black had four assists in the win and Gordon added an assist for a three-point outing.
Rhyse Dieno, Scott Feser, and Vukie Mpofu replied for Red Deer, who dropped to 29-30-1-3 and sat ninth in the Eastern Conference.
“Yeah that is the good news with this team,” Lamb said of another comeback win. “We just had a lapse in the second period and we were down 3-1. We relaxed after the second period. There are a lot of tense moments going on with our team and the youth on our team. We just went out there and played in the third period and played strong.”
The Broncos were trailing 3-1 until Gordon scored with 33 seconds left in the middle stanza.
“When we got that late goal in the second period I think that was the turning point,” said Lamb.
He said that a two-goal night from Johnson was a welcome contribution.
“That is what you need is depth in the scoring department. Johnson, in the last month has played really well for us. He is a 94 and he really wants to be a leader on this team. He is going out there and he is laying it on the line every night.”
The Broncos hit the 30win plateau and remained sixth with a 30-24-2-6 record. They will play four games over the next five days, including three home games to conclude that stretch.
They open the weekend in Regina against the East Division leading Pats on Friday, their second game against the Pats in three days.
“They are not an unknown anymore,” said Lamb, whose team had won their first four games in the season series.
“No one, especially at the start of the season, no one gave them a lot of credit. They added some players and they have some depth. They have three lines with veteran players that have been around and they have a fourth line that is young and learning. Their D are big and strong and they are tough to play against. They traded for a goaltender at the trade deadline and he is running the table right now ... They are a tough team and it is going to be a tough test for us.”
The Broncos will be back at home on Saturday to face the last-place Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Broncos have won both games against the struggling Hurricanes with two games remaining in the season series. Black leads the team with four points and Cave and Merkley have both scored twice. Laurikainen and Bow each have a win over the Hurricanes.
They will play their third game in as many nights on Saturday when the Brandon Wheat Kings visit the Credit Union iplex.
The Broncos are 4-2-0-1 against the Wheaties heading into the final regular season meeting. Black and Nathan Burns each have 10 points in the season series for the Broncos, while Tim McGauley and Peter Quenneville lead Brandon with 11 and 10 points respec- tively. Laurikainen has three wins over Brandon with a .910 save percentage.
Burns had missed three games due to injury but Lamb expected him back in the line-up this week.
“Since he has been here he has probably been our best forward,” said Lamb.
The Broncos will face another major test Tuesday when they Eastern Conference leading Oil Kings visit. The Broncos have lost twice to Edmonton this season but won the only game in Swift Current early in the season. The Broncos have only scored six goals in the season series but the have allowed 11 goals now as seven different Oil Kings have scored and Jarry has a .938 save percentage against them.
BRONCO BITS: Cave scored his fourth shorthanded goal in 204 regular season WHL games. The Broncos captain now has 28 goals in 62 games this season, one more than he scored in his first 143 games in the league. Black finished the weekend tied for eighth in league scoring with 80 points in 59 games. He is currently fifth in the WHL with 51 assists.
Zac Mackay and the Swift Current Broncos will play nine games in the final 16 days of the Western Hockey League regular season as the chase for the East Division title goes down to the wire.