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Warriors defeat Saskatoon in overtime in Game 7 to advance to WHL Final

Lakovic scores overtime winner for second straight game as Warriors take 3-2 victory, advance to face Portland in league final beginning Friday
The Moose Jaw Warriors gather for the customary team photo with the Eastern Conference Championship trophy after their Game 7 win Tuesday night.

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- The Moose Jaw Warriors are off to the Western Hockey League Championship Final for the second time in team history.

Lynden Lakovic scored the series winner 36 seconds into overtime to give the Warriors a 3-2 victory over the Saskatoon Blades in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Championship on Tuesday night in Saskatoon, giving Moose Jaw a four-games-to-three win in the best-of-seven series.

As a result, the Warriors will now advance to face the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL Final, with Game 1 of that series set to hit the ice on Friday night.

Before that, there was the most epic series in WHL history to settle, and it was a close one from start to finish.

The two teams settled into a cautious back-and-forth through the early going, with Brayden Yager getting the best scoring chance at the nine minute mark when his one-on-four shot from high in the Blades zone went off the crossbar.

Rilen Kovacevic had another chance moments later when he was able to split the Blades defence and go in on a short breakaway, but his backhand attempt would be stopped by Saskatoon goaltender Evan Gardner.

The Blades received the only power play of the game with 8:55 to play in the period when Cosmo Wilson was called for tripping Brandon Lisowsky in the Warriors zone, but the Warriors would kill it off, and immediately after Moose Jaw got on the board.

Kalem Parker got off a shot from the blueline banked off Ethan Semeniuk, hit the post, went off Gardner’s back and bounced into the net for a 1-0 lead with 6:25 to play in the opening frame.

The teams exchanged great scoring chances late in the period, first when a Blades chance in the Warriors zone rolled just past the post and moments later when Matthew Savoie went in on a break on Gardner but lost the handle on the puck just as he went to shoot..

There things sat until midway through the second period when Saskatoon took advantage of a ton of zone time and a slew of opportunities to tie the game.

It all resulted in Easton Armstrong getting off a backhand in the slot with 7:38 to play in the period, with his shot finding its way past Jackson Unger for the 1-1 tie.

The Blades continued to carry the play as the period progressed and dominated zone time, but Unger would hold the fort, eventually finishing with 17 saves in the frame.

Unger had to be sharp midway through the third period when Egor Sidorov was left alone in front of the Warriors net and found a puck behind the Warriors defence, but the Moose Jaw netminder would make a huge save.

Moments later Brayden Yager had a chance of his own on a two on one with Savoie, but he’d be unable to get a good shot off on a bouncing puck and Gardner made the big pad save.

The Warriors then regained the lead with 9:47 to play in the regulation.

Yager stripped the puck from a Blades defender behind the net and got a pass out front to Jagger Firkus, who put a shot on net from the slot that snuck through Gardner for a 2-1 edge.

Unger had another huge save with 5:46 remaining when a Sidorov shot squirted free in the crease and was rolling into the net with a Blades attacker bearing down, but Unger would dive back with his glove to cover the puck.

Lakovic had a chance to extend the lead with a little under four minutes remaining when he went in on a partial breakaway, but Gardner made the save and -- sure enough -- Saskatoon came right back down the ice for the tying goal.

A Warriors clearing attempt went off the linesman, leading to Vaughn Watterodt getting off a shot from the high slot that went through a Parker block attempt and top shelf glove side with 3:07 to play in regulation.

That set the stage for overtime for a record-setting sixth time in the series, and the Warriors  would get things done quickly.

One game after scoring the OT winner in Game 6, Lakovic got off a shot from the right side that Gardner couldn’t handle, with the puck going off Blades defender Tyler Parr’s skate and in with 36 seconds gone in the extra period.

Longtime Warriors supporter Kelly Remple was in the press box next to the Warriors broadcast crew of James Gallo and Derek Kletzel and had video of the immediate aftermath.

Unger capped his night with 37 saves, while Gardner stopped 22.

Games 1 and 2 of the WHL Final are Friday and Saturday in Portland, with the series reverting to Moose Jaw for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

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