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SHOWTIME: Warriors set to hit the ice for Game 1 against Saskatoon

First-round Western Hockey League series set for puck drop at 7 p.m. tonight at Mosaic Place
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The Moose Jaw Warriors celebrate a goal against the Saskatoon Blades earlier this season.

The preparation is complete, the teams are ready and puck drop is only hours away.

Now the question is just how things will go when the Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatoon Blades take the ice for their Western Hockey League first-round playoff series.

One thing that’s for certain is the Warriors feel they have put their work in to get ready for the important games ahead -- and ideally for head coach Mark O’Leary and crew, that’ll lead to a solid start to things Friday night at Mosaic Place.

“I really liked the energy at the at the rink all week and I think we feel prepared,” O’Leary said shortly after practice Thursday afternoon. “And the players have certainly put in the work to feel that way, so we're all just chomping at the bit ready to get things going.”

The Warriors didn’t change a whole lot when it came to their practice habits and plans over the last week for a simple reason: what they’ve been doing saw the team finish fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 37-24-4-3 record and lockdown all-important home-ice advantage against the Blades.

“It was what got us here and hopefully, we can continue to elevate,” O’Leary said. “And I think when we're at our best, we're a pretty good team. So like any team, it's about getting into your game early and then being consistent with it throughout the game and throughout the series, and we feel we’ve prepared for that.”

The two teams met eight times during the season, with Saskatoon picking up wins in six of those meetings. Moose Jaw won the regular-season opener 7-1 at Moose Jaw on Oct. 1 and rolled to a 7-0 win on Mar. 26, the two most lopsided contests between the teams this season. The other two games at home for the Warriors saw Saskatoon win by a goal, 4-3 on Oct. 16 and 5-4 on Dec. 14.

The Blades were far more comfortable at SaskTel Centre, winning 4-2 on Oct. 2, 6-2 on Oct. 27, 5-2 on Feb, 27 and 4-1 in their most recent meeting on Apr. 1.

In other words, a season series filled with highs and lows for both teams -- and something the Warriors plan on keeping a handle on throughout their playoff run.

“It comes down to what our model has been all season long, that circumstances don't change the standards,” O’Leary said. “There are standards that we hold ourselves to whether things are going well or things aren't going very well. It's the same thing in playoffs, when you get behind the eight-ball maybe you're having a tough game, it doesn't change the standards and you just stay the course.”

One thing that’s for certain is the Blades will be a challenge. Moose Jaw might have finished a point ahead in the standings, but as the season series would indicate, Saskatoon can do all sorts of damage, and quickly.

“We know what makes them successful and that’s their skill level off the rush, they transition so fast,” O’Leary said. “So I think the big thing is for us not to get carried away with going all in on offense and leaving nobody back to help out (goaltender) Carl (Tetachuk). The most important thing is that we're playing as a five-man unit, and when you're going up against a team like Saskatoon, you want to make it hard on them by making them go through as many bodies as you can.

“But I think when two teams like this are so evenly matched, it's going to be important that you just reset after each game and start fresh because we know there are going to be momentum swings all series.”

Game 2 takes place on Saturday night at Mosaic Place with Games 3 and 4 in Saskatoon on Tuesday and Wednesday; Game 5, if necessary, is in Moose Jaw on Friday, Apr. 29, followed by Game 6 in Saskatoon on Saturday, Apr. 30 and the deciding Game 7 in Moose Jaw on Tuesday, May 3.

Playoff tickets are on sale, and you can pick them up by visiting the Warriors office in Mosaic Place or by visiting www.mjwarriors.ca.