Dare we use the word ... playoffs?

By Gordon Anderson

February 16, 2017 12:00 AM

SO CLOSE The 'Cats are tasting victory and are now only a single point behind Drayton Valley and Grande Prairie as they play again tonight. GORDON ANDERSON LLS PHOTO

All of a sudden, a playoff spot looks tantalizingly close for the Bobcats
The Lloydminster Bobcats pulled to within one point of the last playoff spot in the north division following a 2-0 win over the Bonnyville Pontiacs in Alberta Junior Hockey League action at the RJ Lalonde Arena in Bonnyille on Tuesday night.
With the victory the Bobcats won three of four on their just completed road trip.
The club left the Civic Centre on Friday, seven points out of the post-season, and now find themselves one point behind, both, the Drayton Valley Thunder and the Grande Prairie Storm heading into AJHL action on Thursday night.
“The guys are competing and the will to win is there,” Bobcats head coach Travis Clayton said.
“They’re getting the taste of victory and they’re enjoying it. I couldn’t be more proud. They’ve worked hard all year and now it’s paying off. They’re having fun. It’s a fun time of year, the guys are responding and it’s great to be at the rink.”
Goaltender Austin McGrath has won the ‘Cats a few hard-earned points with his stellar play and Tuesday night was no different. He turned aside 43 shots in the shutout victory.
“It’s a good feeling, especially since we were six or seven points behind in the playoff (chase) and now were just one out,” McGrath said about the recent spell of wins. “The last few games for us have been huge and we’re playing as a team and putting in a good effort. It’s given us a chance to get into the playoffs.
“McGrath was phenomenal (on Tuesday night), he made save after save but I thought our defence and forwards boxed guys out and tied up sticks,” Clayton added.“They had a lot of shots but I don’t think they have a lot of second chances around the net.”
And the Lloydminster native is getting a lot of help these days and he says it makes a big difference to him and his numbers.
Not that he cares about numbers,  but he does cares about winning.
“We’re tying up guys in front of the net these last few games and not giving up those second or third (chance) opportunities,” McGrath said.
“That helps a lot, not having to make three or four saves in a sequence.”
The Bobcats scored their 100th goal of the season at the 17:07 mark of the second period when Chastan Braid blistered a quick wrist shot into the corner and by the catching glove of Pontiacs goalie Sandro Sylvestre.
The Bobcats power-play, which has been on a nice roll since the start of the month, gave the Bobcats a 2-0 lead at 15:05 of the third period.
Zach Webb found himself alone in front of the net after Rob Johnson fed him the disc.
The diminutive forward waited until Sylvestre hit the deck and back-handed the puck high into the empty net.
The power play went 1-3 on the night and has now scored six goals in its last 26 opportunities.
“Our power-play has been really good the last 10 games and it’s getting rewarded,” Clayton said.
“Everything is starting to click now.”
The two teams met on Feb. 8 as the Pontiacs scored two power-play goals and a short-handed marker in a 4-0 victory but the ‘Cats did their homework and nabbed a passing grade from the coach.
“We watched film and saw what they did not do on their power-play and we shut it down,” Clayton said.
“Our forwards and defence did a great job and, obviously, you need your goaltender, he’s the biggest guy tonight.”
The club has seven games remaining in the regular-season and Clayton knows the importance of the upcoming two-game series with the Storm that begins on Friday night at the Civic Centre.
“It’s in our hands. It’s playoff hockey, it’s going to be lively in there and it’s fun atmosphere and the boys are going to be pumped up,” Clayton said.
“It’s exciting. If you would have told me two or three weeks ago that we had a chance to make playoffs I would have been a little bit hesitant. Now, we’re right there and we want it.”

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