It’s time to work off the turkey as the Prince Albert Raiders head to Saskatoon to take on the Blades to start the unofficial second half of the 2017-18 Western Hockey League season on Wednesday night.
The Raiders have been off since a loss to the Kelowna Rockets on Dec. 15 at the Art Hauser Centre, while the Blades’ last game before Christmas was on Dec. 17 against Regina. Despite the layoff, there will be no easing into things as the two rivals battle in a home-and-home set with the Blades returning to Prince Albert on Thursday.
Although there are 38 games remaining on the Raiders’ schedule, these two against Saskatoon have major implications on the standings. Coming out of the break, the Raiders and Blades are tied for the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, with Prince Albert holding one game in hand on their Highway 11 rivals.
As things stand, the next closest team on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture is the Red Deer Rebels, who are seven points back of both Saskatoon and Prince Albert. A lot can change between now and the end of the season in March, but it is starting to look like finishing ahead of the Blades is the key for a Raider postseason berth this year.
Of course, the struggling Regina Pats are within reach, just two points ahead of the Raiders in the East Division, with two more games played. With the 2018 Memorial Cup looming, expect the host Pats to find a way to improve significantly in the second half, likely with help via trade before the Jan. 10 deadline.
The two-game set against the Blades will be followed by a home-and-home against the Pats on Dec. 30 in Prince Albert and Jan. 1 in Regina, giving the Raiders an opportunity to set the tone against their divisional rivals to ring in the New Year.
So far, the green and gold are 1-1 against the Blades with six games remaining in the season series, and 0-0-1 against the Pats with seven games to play.
The puck drops in Saskatoon at 7:05 p.m.
On Twitter: @Trevor_Redden
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