The Moose Jaw Warriors are off to the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
And they once again have their impressive resiliency to thank for it after taking a 6-3 win over the Saskatoon Blades in Game 5 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final on Friday night at Mosaic Place.
Jagger Firkus had a goal and two assists to lead the effort, which saw the Warriors win the series four-games-to-one.
“I just wanted to go out there and play my game and I think I'm an offensive guy, that’s what I bring to the team and it’s what I was hoping to do tonight,” Firkus said. “I just tried to bring offense with Ats (Atley Calvert) and Yags (Brayden Yager) and they had an unbelievable game, too. So it's awesome to go out there and have a lot of chemistry with those guys tonight and it was good that [pucks] were going in.”
Things were scrambly in the early going, but the Warriors were once again able to use their work ethic to get things done early.
Yager out-raced a Blades defender to the puck behind the net and fired a pass into the high slot that found a wide-open Firkus. The 2022 NHL Draft prospect would make no mistake with his shot low to the blocker side on Nolan Maier, opening scoring a 5:55 of the game.
Moose Jaw then had a golden opportunity to extend the early lead when Brandon Lisowsky took a double minor for high-sticking 8:55 into the period, and unlike the majority of the series, the Warriors made the Blades pay.
Denton Mateychuk took a feed to the left face-off circle seconds into the first minor and beat Maier with a shot to make it 2-0 only 9:08 in.
Saskatoon got one back with 5:58 remaining in the frame, though, and it was one of the luckiest goals you’ll see. While on their first power play, Josh Pillar took a shot from the point that was blocked but popped straight up into the air, and everyone on the ice lost track of it until the puck dropped into the net behind Carl Tetachuk.
As would be the case throughout the game, the Warriors were able to respond and keep the pressure on the Blades.
Firkus was in exactly the right spot at the right time at the side of the net to snare a blocked Calvert point shot, and he’d roof a the puck past Maier to restore Moose Jaw’s two-goal lead at 8:52.
“That’s how the playoffs are, you can't get too high, you can't get too low, you always have to be on an even keel,” Firkus said, “And I think we did a good job of that tonight, even in the third period when were up two and they came back and got back with in one It’s awesome that the boys showed it all series that we’re resilient and it's even better that we show up in these kinds of games.”
Saskatoon managed to stay in touch with seven minutes remaining when Tetachuk made a brilliant stick save on Egor Siderov only to have the rebound end up going right to the slot. Pillar was the lucky recipient and he’d make it a one-goal game with a shot blocker side.
Saskatoon had a handful of chances in the early stages of the third period but it would be the Warriors who would strike next, and from a surprise source.
Majid Kaddoura sprung Thomas Tien on a partial breakaway and he’d fight off a Blades defender all the way from the blueline before beating Maier with a shot high glove side.
The goal came in Tien’s first game of the playoffs after the 17-year-old had sat out the previous four contests.
Things were far from over, though, as Saskatoon pulled back within one with 7:13 to play after Noah Boyko found Wong alone in front and got a perfect one-timer off high glove side to make it 4-3.
That set the stage for the biggest insurance marker of the season with 3:38 to play, with Calvert finally finishing one of his slew of chances on the night, snaring a Mateychuk rebound at the top of the net and going around Maier to tuck the puck in.
“it was huge, and it could have been anyone, it didn't have to be me,” Calvert said. “Just to get that goal gave us some insurance and took the pressure off, and we were able to get the job done from there,”
Baco added an empty-net marker with just over two minutes left to close out scoring in the series.
Needless to say, head coach Mark O’Leary was more than happy with his troops’ performance.
“Real proud of the group, they learned a lot about themselves during this round, especially how to play to be successful,” he said. “They showed resiliency that they've shown all season long and whether it was in the game, within the game, or after a tough loss last game, they bounce back fast.”
Tetachuk faced 29 shots in the win, Maier had 41 stops in his final WHL game.
The Warriors will now await either the Winnipeg Ice, who finished off their series with an 8-2 win over Prince Albert Friday, or the Red Deer Rebels or Brandon Wheat Kings, depending on how that series play out. Red Deer won 3-1 Friday to take a 3-1 series lead.