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Overtime win gives Saskatoon Blades 2-0 series lead heading to Red Deer

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An overtime goal from Ben Saunderson Sunday night gave the Saskatoon Blades a 2-1 win in game two of their second round WHL series with Red Deer and a 2-0 series lead heading on the road for games three and four.

Game two saw the physicality ramp up from game one and an admittedly sloppy, chippy first period saw no scoring but plenty of hits.

“Definitely a little more chippy than game one,” Blades defenseman John Babcock said. “But personally I feel like Prince Albert prepared us very well for that,” he added.

Tanner Molendyk took an awkward bump when he was taken down in the corner, before being crunched by a second Rebels forward. He was slow to get up, but finished the game.

The Blades opened the scoring in the second period when Ben Saunderson broke up a Rebels offensive rush, quickly sending it the other way for Fraser Minten and Rhett Melnyk on a breakaway.

Minten’s shot to the five-hole found the back of the net and would be the Blades’ only goal in regulation.

Despite four power-play opportunities in the second and the Blades pouring on the shots, Rebels goalie Chase Wutzke stood tall.

“Fantastic,” said Red Deer Rebels head coach Dave Struch. “He gave us a chance, that’s something that he did for us against Medicine Hat as well. For Chase to play the way he did was a real bounce back game for us and gave us a chance.”

Early in the third period, John Babcock got his stick caught in a Rebels forward and was called for hooking. On the ensuing power play, a long point shot was deflected in front by Kalan Lind to tie the game at 1-1.

Making matters worse, two minutes later a rush that Blades forward Easton Armstrong nearly scored on, resulted in him crashing into Wutzke. Armstrong was assessed a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct on the play. Wutzke was shaken up but able to continue.

“You have to know Armstrong to know that he’s not out there trying to hurt people,” said Blades coach Brennan Sonne. “I don’t think the intention’s there, I think he’s trying to make a play at the net, and it was an unfortunate collision. I don’t want to see anyone go down, Red Deer or Saskatoon.”

The Blades penalty killers stepped up, blocking shots and breaking up rushes before the Rebels could set up in the offensive zone.

Neither team could score in regulation time though, setting the stage for a thrilling, end-to-end overtime period.

With chances for both sides, the Rebels’ best shot at splitting the series was foiled by Babcock’s soccer style save in the crease, kicking the puck back under a sprawling Evan Gardner.

“I made a bad turnover to cause that, but I’m glad I could kind of save the game there,” said Babcock. “I just saw it over Evan’s shoulder there, and slid on it and hoped for the best.”

Then, Blades captain Trevor Wong jumped on a turnover near his own bench, entered the zone and turned back toward the blue line. Wong sent a pass to a late-breaking Ben Saunderson who made no mistake, going top corner as he was being tripped for the game winner.

“To be honest, I didn’t see it [go] in,” Saunderson said. “I just heard the crowd. I heard the crossbar, I didn’t see it go in, but I heard the crowd and knew it went in.”

Sonne said plays like Wong’s, who had a league leading 86 assists in the regular season, made finding Saunderson in a pressure moment with a perfect pass are why he was so successful all year long.

“There’s just not many guys at this level that can make that play, and that’s why he had 101 points,” he said.

The Blades head to Red Deer to take on the Rebels on Tuesday and Wednesday. Game five, if necessary, will be back in Saskatoon on Friday night at SaskTel Centre.

  

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