The Estevan Bruins are going to the playoffs. The question now is where they'll finish in the overall standings, and if they'll have a first round bye.
The Bruins clinched the post-season birth on February 12 when the Flin Flon Bombers lost to the La Ronge Ice Wolves 8-3; at that point, the Bruins were guaranteed a spot in the league's top 10, and a trip to the playoffs.
Estevan won two of their next three games, defeating the Notre Dame Hounds 5-1 on February 13 and the Melville Millionaires 3-2 on the 18th, but losing 2-0 to the Kindersley Klippers on the 15th.
Estevan has 60 points, thanks to a 26-18-3-5 record, which leaves them as the league's seventh seed. They're chasing the Humboldt Broncos (29-20-1-3, 62 points) for the sixth seed; the Bruins have a game in hand on Humboldt, but Humboldt holds the tie-breakers.
The top six seeds receive a first round bye. The seventh seed would play the 10th seed in a first round, best-of-five series; as of February 19, that would mean the Bruins would face the Nipawin Hawks.
"Our goal at this point is to finish in sixth spot," said head coach/GM Chris Lewgood. "We've got our backs against wall right now, and we can't do it without lots of help.
"We have our work cut out for us, but we plan on going to work every night."
Lewgood said they plan to win all of their remaining games.
Estevan started slowly against Notre Dame, as they were outshot 13-8 in the first period, but still had a 1-0 lead on a goal by Ben Johnstone. Notre Dame tied the game midway through the second, but Austin Daae scored seven seconds later to restore Estevan's one-goal advantage.
Michael Sagen scored late in the second, and then Tanner Froese scored twice in the third.
Brett Lewchuk stopped 37 shots for the victory.
The game against Kindersley had a raucous start, as the two teams combined for 79 penalty minutes in the first period. And Lewgood was pleased with his team's effort in the first period.
"I thought we took the play to them physically, and I thought we were the better team in the first period," said Lewgood. "I think our guys were out executing our game plan, and we were not rewarded for it."
But they struggled in the final two periods. Kindersley opened the scoring in the second, and had 19 shots on goal in the middle stanza. And after the Klippers gave up quality scoring chances to Lynnden Pastachak and Michael Sagen early in the third, they limited the Bruins' scoring chances.
"The trouble starts deep in our zone, where we were having a tough time with their cycle, and weren't doing a good job with making strong defensive zone plays," said Lewgood. "Any time you're battling in your defensive zone, you're tired when it's time to make that transition to the offensive zone."
Gibney stopped 40 shots.
Johnstone was suspended for a boarding major he was assessed in the first period. Lewgood said he thought that Johnstone's hit was a clean hit, and that it didn't warrant a punishment, but Lewgood also expected Johnstone would be suspended.
Austin Daae scored midway through the first period to give Estevan a 1-0 lead over Melville, and then Connor McKenzie doubled the advantage with his first SJHL goal early in the second. Melville cut the lead in half, but Pastachak scored late in the second to restore the two-goal lead.
Melville made it close with a goal late in the third, but the Bruins didn't give up the tying goal.
Gibney stopped 25 shots for the victory.
The Bruins will host the Battlefords North Stars on February 21 at Affinity Place at 7:30 p.m. Then they will visit the Melville Millionaires on the 25th.