The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff picture is starting to get a little clearer with each passing day and by the end of this Family Day long weekend there should be some things that have crystalized.
The most obvious is the chase for first place overall and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The magic number for the defending champion Battlefords North Stars to accomplish that is down to one and with three games in three nights this weekend they have ample opportunity to put that race to bed.
The North Stars, who finish the season with five of their last six games on the road, are in Flin Flon for a doubleheader on Friday and Saturday against the Bombers before completing the busy weekend with a stop in Nipawin on Sunday to take on the Hawks.
Should the North Stars complete the wire-to-wire run for the regular-season pennant then Flin Flon, which is the only team that can mathematically catch them, will focus on securing the No. 2 seed and that in itself can also be accomplished this weekend as any combination of Bomber wins or Yorkton Terriers, Nipawin Hawks, Melfort Mustangs and La Ronge Ice Wolves losses totalling three will put Flin Flon out of reach of those behind them in the standings.
Just three points separates the Terriers, Hawks, Mustangs and Ice Wolves leaving the battle for the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds as the most intense entering the final two weeks of the regular schedule. Yorkton is on the road for a pair of games this weekend, but they face two teams fighting it out for the final playoff spot in the Humboldt Broncos and Kindersley Klippers. Nipawin also takes on the Broncos in addition to their Sunday tilt with the Battlefords while Melfort has just a lone home game on Saturday against the Melville Millionaires. La Ronge finishes a four-games-in-five-nights swing with stops in Weyburn and Notre Dame before returning home where they will play four of their final five games on home ice.
The magic number is also down to three or less for Yorkton, Nipawin, Melfort and La Ronge to punch their tickets to the post-season as Kindersley is the only remaining team that can prevent any one of those four from extending their season beyond the regular schedule. All four could be making playoff plans after this weekend if things were to shake out in their favour, but the Klippers, and others, will have plenty to say about that.
That takes care of the top part of the standings. The bottom end is also settling down, but there is one big question that still needs to be answered.
For Melville, Weyburn and Notre Dame, unfortunately, the possibility of playing beyond the end of the regular schedule likely comes to an end this weekend. The Estevan Bruins, who moved into seventh place with a convincing 8-0 win over La Ronge on Wednesday, and Humboldt both need just one more win to eliminate that trio from the playoff chase. A single loss by either of the bottom three will also put a stamp on their 2019-20 season.
Where the intrigue remains in the lower half is that Kindersley is hot on the heels of both Estevan and Humboldt for that final playoff spot. The Bruins, who have just one game this weekend in Melville, have won four straight and can still catch those immediately ahead of them in the standings, but they have the least favourable schedule remaining as seven of their last eight games are on the road.
The Broncos, on the other hand, have six of their final seven games on home ice including three this weekend and Monday’s holiday showdown against the Klippers is likely to be the biggest game of the year for both teams. Kindersley, which has gone 6-3-1-0 in their last 10 games, are just four points back of the Broncos and six behind Estevan so this weekend can either bring those three even closer or more separation can be created.
SJHL NOTES – Should the Yorkton Terriers fend off those behind them and claim one of the top-four spots and home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs they will need to do it without their captain and league-leading scorer Chantz Petruic for the majority of the remainder of the regular schedule. Petruic, who has a 20-point lead in the individual scoring race, was suspended for six games after an incident in last Friday’s shootout win against Weyburn. Petruic is not eligible to return until the final week of the regular schedule when the Terriers will play their last three games, but so far so good as Yorkton has won their first two without him in the line-up…Flin Flon forward Tristan Lemyre continues to pull away in the rookie scoring race as the recent University of Denver commit now has 19 points in his last 12 games. Lemyre is 11 points clear of La Ronge’s Kyle Ford in freshmen scoring…Flin Flon leads the league in goals scored by a large margin and one thing that can be attributed to that total is their success with a man advantage. The Bombers have capitalized on an impressive 28.4 per cent of their opportunities while on the power play and that is seven points better than Humboldt, which is also fairly solid in that category. One interesting fact about this, however, is the Bombers have allowed 10 shorthanded goals against, tied for second most behind Kindersley, while the Broncos have given up just one shorthanded effort…Should the Klippers get into the playoffs they will be battle tested when it comes to playing in do-or-die situations. Not only has the last month or so seen the team in survivor mode to try and claim a spot in the post-season, but nearly one third of their games have required extra time. Kindersley has been extended beyond regulation time on 16 occasions this year with the Klippers picking up the extra point in nine of those instances. With Kindersley presently being just four points out of the last playoff spot they can only imagine where they would be had those other nine games ended in their favour.
Battlefords at Flin Flon
Estevan at Melville
La Ronge at Weyburn
Yorkton at Humboldt
La Ronge at Notre Dame
Battlefords at Flin Flon
Melville at Melfort
Nipawin at Humboldt
Yorkton at Kindersley
Battlefords at Nipawin
Kindersley at Humboldt