Hockey is a funny game sometimes.
One night you’re giving up eight goals to a team behind you in the standings, the next you shut out a team that hadn’t lost all season.
Or you’re pulled from a game after giving up bunches of goals early, but in your next outing stop every shot you face for your team’s first shutout of the season.
For the Moose Jaw Warriors and goaltender Boston Bilous, that was exactly how things turned out on Friday night in Western Hockey League East Division bubble action.
One night after falling 8-5 to the last-place Swift Current Broncos, the Warriors had 29 saves from Bilous on their way to a 4-0 victory over the first-place Saskatoon Blades at the Brandt Centre in Regina.
Night and day, and the product of renewed focus on head coach Mark O’Leary’s gameplan.
“Learsy is a pretty damn good coach and he got us going, he told us everything we needed to reset for this game,” said forward Riley Krane, whose first goal of the season in the third period helped relieve some pressure and ensure the win. “We just played our game, we didn’t worry about what Saskatoon was doing and just played how we are supposed to.”
O’Leary himself was happy to see the response -- especially in the face of what was a six-game losing skid heading into Friday night.
“Credit to our guys, they bought in after they were challenged pretty hard from yesterday,” said Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “They picked themselves up and dusted themselves off and had a real good night. That’s what we talk about, bad things are going to happen and it’s what you do next that matters.”
The shutout was vindication for Bilous, who had been pulled early in the first period from both his previous starts against Brandon and Winnipeg.
“That’s what you need for sure out of your older guys,” O’Leary said. “You look at the start of the game, he sent the message that he was here to play when he made a couple big saves early. I think that just calms the nerves on the bench, when you’re going through a losing streak you can be a little bit fragile, but when you see that confidence in the net it seems to roll through the team. He was a big part of that and I think the guys rallied around him.”
Cole Jordan would score what stood as the game-winning goal with 3:29 remaining in the first, as he timed a defensive pinch perfectly and set up all alone at the side of the net before taking a perfect cross-ice feed from Eric Alarie and lifting a shot home.
Denton Mateychuk made it 2-0 1:17 into the final period, with his shot from the point finding its way through a screen and eluding Nolan Maier high to the blocker side. The goal was the first of the season for the 16-year-old defenceman.
Bilous had a half dozen huge saves on golden scoring chances for the Blades, but few matched the sequence with five minutes gone in the third, as he stopped Kyle Crnkovic shorthanded and moments later robbed Tristen Robins all alone in front with a sprawling save.
Krane’s goal came with 7:51 to play in the game as he redirected a point shot from Cory King through Maeir’s five hole to give Moose Jaw a 3-0 lead.
“It felt like I’ve been doing alot of the right things through the previous 11 games here, but I finally got a bounce and it went in for me,” Krane said.
Lucas Brenton then finished things off with 2:44 remaining, scoring his first Western Hockey League goal by banking a clearing shot off the boards in his zone and finding the empty net as Maier was pulled for the extra attacker.
The Warriors had 18 shots on Maier.
Moose Jaw improved to 5-6-1-0 and leapfrogged Regina into fourth place in the division. As it turns out, that’s exactly who they’ll face next, as the Warriors take on the Pats on Monday afternoon. Game time is 4 p.m.