By losing two of three games during last week’s homestand, the CanElson Drilling Estevan Bruins fell out of contention for a top three spot in the Sherwood Conference and now know their playoff fate.
The Bruins (27-27-0-2) will finish fourth in the conference and face the fifth-place Notre Dame Hounds in a best-of-five survivor series that will begin Feb. 24.
After a horrid outing in a 3-0 loss to the Yorkton Terriers on Wednesday, the Bruins fired 59 shots on goal in a 3-2 shootout win over the Kindersley Klippers on Friday, then lost 6-2 to the Humboldt Broncos Saturday.
Bruins head coach Keith Cassidy said the team started Saturday’s game the way they had planned, but it went downhill from there.
“That first period was a very good skating period. We once again showed that when we put our minds to it, we can skate with the top teams in the league,” he said.
“It’s inspiring to see us go out there and execute what we’re talking about.”
After a strong start by the Bruins, Humboldt pushed back and got the only goal of the frame when Neil Landry put in a Joey Davies rebound at 7:57.
The Broncos took control of the game during a very forgettable second period for the Bruins. Beginning at the six-minute mark, Estevan was given six straight minutes of power play time after a minor penalty to Andrew Johnston and a double-minor to Josh Roach.
The league’s top power play failed to shine on this occasion, not generating a single scoring chance during a stretch Cassidy termed “awful.”
“That, to me, is sort of what took the wind out of our collective souls,” he said. “It was a huge detriment to us, that’s for sure. When you go out there and fail to capitalize or even generate some motion or opportunity on those, certainly it’s an emotional letdown for your team.”
The Broncos were soon rewarded for their penalty killing prowess, scoring a pair of goals 33 seconds apart on deflections to break the game open.
At 13:23, Ryan Marshall tipped a Mathew Backhouse point shot, sending the puck skittering under the glove of Bruins starter Steven Glass. Then Andrew Herle got his stick on Kameron Ballas’ point shot and sent it in the same direction.
Cassidy said his team had talked about getting deflections in the intermission, and seeing the Broncos score two quick ones in that fashion “broke our stride permanently.”
Two minutes after the Herle marker, Dominic Perrault pulled the Bruins within two goals on a point shot that got past Broncos goalie Matt Hrynkiw.
Just 32 seconds later, though, Marshall streaked in behind the Bruins’ defence and beat Glass on a breakaway to restore the three-goal lead. Ballas and Cole Olson traded goals in the third period.
Glass stopped 49 of 55 shots for Estevan, after turning in a magnificent effort on Wednesday that was wasted.
“Another outstanding goaltending performance that goes down in the books as a loss,” said Cassidy.
On Friday, meanwhile, it was a hot goalie at the other end that forced the first shootout in the history of Spectra Place.
Klippers puckstopper Justin McDonald stopped 57 of 59 shots, which included a particularly outstanding performance in the second period where he saved 20 of 21 shots.
“Credit to him, he stood on his ear and made some incredible saves,” said Cassidy. “What I was impressed with is that we weren’t getting frustrated by it. We just kept plugging away and plugging away.”
Calder Neufeld scored the shootout winner in the third round, beating McDonald with a stick side wrister. Estevan’s Tanner Froese and Kindersley’s Brennen Bosovich also scored in the shootout.
After stopping Colby Daniels to win the game, Bruins goalie Tyler Ross celebrated by Tebowing, bending to one knee and praying, a fad inspired by Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
“I knew if I was going to make the save, I had to make some kind of celebration to pump the boys up. I thought the perfect celebration would be a Tebow,” Ross laughed.
“If Tebowing is the thing to do, then go ahead. He’s got a bit of a flair for the dramatic and we’d never discourage him from doing that,” added Cassidy.
The teams were tied 1-1 after 40 minutes on goals by Neufeld and Austin McDonald. Justin Lund then put the Klippers ahead with 6:40 to play.
Froese would tie it up with 2:57 left when McDonald was caught out of his net and Matt Dochylo fed Froese for the empty-netter.
“It was tough knowing that (McDonald) was (stopping everything) and we just couldn’t get anything in there. I’d sit there and just watch, and it’s tough to push through a game like that,” said Ross, who stopped 25 of 27 shots.
Defenceman Austin Yano suffered a shoulder injury on a hit in the second period and is expected to miss at least two weeks, putting his availability for the start of the playoffs in doubt.
Left winger Taylor Reich will miss two to three weeks with a shoulder injury suffered Feb. 3, meaning he could miss the entire Notre Dame series.
Winger Eric Baldwin continues to sit out with a sprained ankle.
On Wednesday, the Bruins were outplayed in every way in a loss that saw Yorkton outshoot them 43-10. That included a 20-2 margin in the first period of a game that was arguably Estevan’s worst of the season.
Zak Majkowski, Brady Norrish and Tayler Thompson, into an empty net, scored for the visitors.
“These last few games are mentally a struggle for everybody in the league because it’s almost a sense of ‘OK, when can we get the playoffs started?’ said Cassidy.”
The Bruins wrap up the regular season this weekend with a home-and-home against Weyburn. They play Friday in Weyburn and host the Wings Sunday at 6 p.m.