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Moose Jaw outlasts Saskatoon: Headed to the WHL final

For a WHL record-breaking sixth time in seven games, the match went into overtime.
The Moose Jaw Warriors will now head to the WHL Final for the first time since 2006 where they will take on the Portland Winterhawks.

SASKATOON — The top two teams in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference battled to the end, and then some, with the Moose Jaw Warriors emerging victorious in a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over the Saskatoon Blades in game seven, clinching the series win.

This record-breaking series saw six of the seven games extend into overtime, culminating in a nail-biting finale witnessed by 13,240 fans at Saskatoon’s SaskTel Centre on Tuesday night.

Right from the outset, the home team sought to capitalize on the momentum from the boisterous crowd and an emotionally charged anthem. In the opening seven minutes, Saskatoon outshot Moose Jaw 7-1, but was unable to solve Warriors goaltender Jackson Unger.

The Blades' continued pressure led to the game's only minor penalty, incurred by Cosmo Wilson for tripping in his own zone. Although Saskatoon generated promising chances during the ensuing power play, including a close call by Fraser Minten when he attempted to slide home a rebound with a between-his-legs shot, they couldn't find the back of the net.

Following the penalty kill, Moose Jaw gained momentum, eventually breaking the deadlock at 13:35 of the period. Ethan Semeniuk's shot ricocheted off the post and then deflected off Saskatoon goaltender Evan Gardner's backside into the net, marking Semeniuk's first postseason goal.

The first period concluded with Moose Jaw leading 1-0, despite being outshot by Saskatoon 9-7. In the second period, Moose Jaw dominated play in the opening 10 minutes, with Gardner making several key saves to keep the score level.

Just after the mid-point of the period the Blades would get their first break of the hockey game when a point shot from Charlie Wright would pinball off multiple bodies before landing on the backhand of Easton Armstrong. The 20 year old would show amazing patience swooping across the crease and waiting for Unger to go down before slipping it under the crossbar to even the game at 1-1.

The Blades continued to pour on the pressure outshooting Moose Jaw 17-9 in the second period and 26-16 overall by the end of the second period but could not beat Unger.

The third period saw a cautious start, with neither team willing to take unnecessary risks. However, it would be the Blades with the first big chance when a rebound off a screen shot would trickle to 50-goal scorer Egor Sidorov who put it past Unger. However, before the puck could slide across the goal line the Moose Jaw goalie reached back and trapped the puck in his glove to prevent the go-ahead goal. 

That tally would come moments later when Saskatoon would turn the puck over deep in their own zone, allowing the Warriors to centre the disc onto the stick of Jagger Firkus who made no mistake burying the one-timer to make it 2-1 Moose Jaw with 9:47 to go.

Saskatoon would press for the equalizer but they could not get the puck past the Warriors’ shot-blocking defence or goaltender Unger who pulled a second shot off the goal line with 5:46 to go.

Moose Jaw then had a chance to seemingly put the game away when Lynden Lakovic intercepted a pass at his own blue-line and headed into the Saskatoon zone on a breakaway. A forehand move to the left side of Gardner was stopped bringing the crowd to their feet. And they would stay on their feet as the puck was immediately transitioned by the Saskatoon defence on to the stick of Vaughn Watterodt who would use his check as a screen to put the puck high glove side on Unger to tie the game at 2-2, just 10 seconds after his goaltender’s big save.

That is how regulation would end with the Blades outshooting Moose Jaw 38-24.

Next up for a WHL record-breaking sixth time in seven games was overtime and it didn’t take long. After a mix-up in the neutral zone the Warriors entered the Saskatoon end with speed and numbers going to the net. Lynden Lakovic who was stymied late in the third period threw the puck to the net where it would go off bodies and in for the game and series winner. Make the final 3-2 in overtime.

The Warriors will now head to the WHL Final for the first time since 2006 where they will take on the Portland Winterhawks. That series will begin on Friday night in Oregon.