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Yager scores pair as Warriors take two-game lead over Blades

Moose Jaw battles to 5-3 win at Mosaic Place in Game 2, series heads to Saskatoon on Tuesday

As the first period played out between the Moose Jaw Warriors and Saskatoon Blades on Saturday, it looked as if it was going to be a Nolan Maier kind of night.

The Blades standout looked every part the winningest netminder in Western Hockey League history as he did all he could to keep Saskatoon in the game against a relentless Warriors onslaught.

But Moose Jaw just kept at it. And when Brayden Yager broke through in the second period, it set the stage for a crucial Warriors win in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series.

Yager finished the game with two goals and an assist as the Warriors went on to a 5-3 victory and two-games-to-none series lead heading into Saskatoon next week.

“It seemed like we couldn't catch bounce in the first period, so early in the second it was pretty fortunate. It wasn't wasn't a pretty goal, but it felt really good,” Yager said. “We have a lot of resilience on our team, especially at the end of the second when we scored two big goals. It was huge for us and gave us a really big boost.”

The Warriors success in the first was bolstered by three straight minor penalties to the Blades, and Moose Jaw ended up with 15 shots on Maier in the opening frame alone. It was a bounce back performance for the overage netminder after he allowed five goals and was pulled in the third period in Game 1.

“He was the best player on the ice here tonight, certainly in the early going,” lauded Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary. “We could have taken a stranglehold on the game and I thought we lost some opportunities to put something on the board, but we know that's what we're gonna get with them. Both goalies in the series are going to have their moments when they’re shining and we saw that tonight.”

The Warriors needed only 20 seconds to solve Maier in the second period. Yager went in on a shorthanded break down the right wing and put a hard shot on net that Maier stopped, only to have the rebound go straight out in front, off a defenceman and in.

“In the playoffs sometimes they're gonna go in and it’s not going to be pretty,” Yager said. “You have to crash the net and find rebounds and get gritty. It’s playoff hockey and it’s what you’ve got to do.”

Saskatoon got that one back with 5:40 remaining in the period, and like Yager’s goal, it was a bit of puck luck that led to it. Warriors goaltender Carl Tetachuk made the initial save and attempted to bat the rebound out of danger, but the puck bounced to the side of the net and found Saskatoon’s Brandon Lisowksky all alone. A quick into the open net later, and things were tied 1-1.

The Blades kept the pressure up after that goal and were rewarded again with 3:47 to play in the second, this time when Vaughn Watterodt tipped a shot from the point by Rhett Rhinehrt low blocker side past Tetachuk.

Yager struck again before the period was out, though, tying things up with 1:33 remaning when he took a cross-ice feed from Denton Mateychuk and unloaded a howitzer that Maier got a piece of, only to have the puck trickle over the goal line.

Seeing his standout 16-year-old rise to the occasion against his hometown team was no surprise to O’Leary.

“He's competitive, that's the biggest thing that stands out,” O’Leary said. “We can talk about speed, we can talk about his shot, just the hockey sense and the pure skill that he has. But to me it comes down to his competitive edge and you can't teach that. He has it and when you put that with the skill level that he has, you end up with a pretty good player.”

The Warriors then retook the lead with four seconds remaining in the second, with Lucas Brenton jumping on a huge rebound off a Yager point shot and putting a shot along the ice and into the lower right corner. 

The goal was Brenton’s first in the playoffs and also just happened to come on his 18th birthday.

There things stood until late in the third period when Atley Calvert broke in off the half wall and lifted the puck toward the net. The play looked innocent enough, but Cordel Larson and Riley Niven banged away in the crease until Niven put the puck home with 6:46 remaining in the game.

Saskatoon made things interesting in the last 45 seconds when with Maier pulled for the extra attacker Lisowsky scored, but with 22 seconds remaining Calder Anderson hit the empty net from the Warriiors’s zone after intercepting a cross-ice pass.

Tetachuk was once again his usual solid self and finished with 28 saves on the night, while the Warriors capped the contest with 37 on Maier.

Now the plan is to keep things going when the series hits SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Tuesday night.

“It’s just reset and do what we've been doing,”O’Leary said. “I think that circumstances are going to change throughout the course of the game and throughout the course of the series but the message all along is it doesn't change our standards and we just have to keep plugging along here.”

Game 4 is also in Saskatoon on Tuesday night.