With Brooks Macek scoring the shootout winner on a beautiful deke, the Calgary Hitmen are heading to the playoffs for the 15th time in franchise history.
Needing only two points to officially earn their berth to the post-season, the Hitmen knocked off the Prince Albert Raiders 6-5 in front of 12,571 fans on Friday night, their eighth consecutive win on home ice.
“There is still quite a bit of hockey to be played, it’ll go by quick, and there are things we have to work on,” said Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson, who picked up the win on his 40th birthday.
“We have to be better than we were tonight but there is some things offensively that were really good.”
The Hitmen continue to be stuck in third place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 40-17-1-3, seven points back of conference leading Edmonton Oil Kings but 12 points up on the fourth place Raiders.
It only took 10 seconds for Brady Brassart to open the scoring for the Hitmen, winning the battle for the loose puck low against the Raiders defenseman before potting it far side on netminder Luke Siemens.
It appeared the Hitmen extended their lead a few minutes later when Colten Mayor redirected a rebound with his skate into the net. The referee originally called it a goal, but was waved off after further review.
“I felt like it could go either way,” Mayor said. “I didn’t make a kicking motion. It went off his pad and I tried to stop it with my skate and it went right off, so I thought maybe it would be a good goal.
“I was motivated to get another one.”
Seconds later though, Jesse Zgraggen no doubted his first goal since the middle of January, shooting one from the point that bounced off Siemens’ shoulder and into the net.
Prince Albert started their comeback early in the second period, with Mike Winther scooping up a blocked shot and putting it past Chris Driedger.
Pavlo Padakin responded quickly for the Hitmen, but back-to-back goals from Leon Draisaitl and Dylan Busenius tied up the game at 3-3.
“For stretches, we did a good job in the offensive zone,” Williamson said. “We moved the puck around, got everyone involved, used the whole ice, but unfortunately they did the same thing so there was a lot of goals scored.”
After having his first potential goal disallowed, Mayor made sure his second one would count, redirecting a centering pass from Macek top corner. Siemens was replaced with Andy Desautels after the goal.
“I told Mace that one wasn’t going to be waved off,” Mayor noted.
Both teams locked down on defense for about 20 minutes until two goals under a minute apart from Anthony Bardaro and Draisaitl gave the Raiders their first lead of the game.
With under three minutes remaining, Jaynen Rissling jumped into the play for the Hitmen slapping home a rebound to tie it up.
Overtime solved nothing, with neither team registering a shot on goal in those five minutes.
After Victor Rask was stuffed for the Hitmen, Macek slid home what was eventually the game winner.
“It was a very entertaining game and there was a few things we could have done better but a lot of the things that we didn’t do as well as we needed to were caused by Prince Albert,” Williamson said.
Driedger made 26 saves, plus all three in the shootout, for his 30th win of the season.
“You wouldn’t think in a 6-5 game that the goalies played well but I think Driedgs played well, made some big stops and obviously the shootout was huge for us.”
The Hitmen now travel to Cranbrook for a game with the Kootenay Ice on Saturday night. Fans can listen live on www.Sportsnet.ca/960.