Saskatoon, Sask. – The way the Saskatoon Blades exited the MasterCard Memorial Cup in the tiebreaker against the London Knights was fitting.
In the 6-1 loss, the Bridge City Boys struggled with the same problems they have dealt with all year long such as taking dumb penalties, not capitalizing on valuable opportunities, and failing to put it into fifth gear with their backs against the wall.
The first nail in the coffin came almost right off the hop in the first four minutes of the game. Blades forward Josh Nicholls tripped Bo Horvat on a breakaway after the Knight snuck by their power play with the puck on his stick. Horvat was rewarded a penalty shot and made no mistake about it.
“It is for sure deflating,” said Blades captain Brendan Walker on the penalty shot goal. “That’s a big goal to give up and we shouldn’t have, but that stuff happens.”
Early in the second, the Blades had a great opportunity to even up the game on a four-minute power play. But they failed to generate a true scoring chance on the man advantage, only putting three shots on Knights goaltender Jake Patterson. Not too long after that failed opportunity, blueliner Matthew Pufahl made a poor decision by cross checking Ryan Rupert after he came in on Andrey Makarov despite the officials calling the play dead on an offside. Apparently, neither player heard the whistle.
“I was just trying to save a goal, I didn’t hear the offside whistle,” said Pufahl. “I thought I was just making a defensive play to stop a player from scoring on Makarov.”
Knights forward Seth Griffith scored on the man advantage, followed by Chris Tierney potting one just 49 seconds later to give the Knights a 3-0 lead. These two quick goals seemed to deflate the Blades’ confidence.
“Second period took the wind out of our sails and we were never able to get it back,” said Blades defenceman Duncan Siemens.
After stopping 30 of 33 shots throughout the first 40 minutes, Makarov’s tires fell off in the final frame. The Buffalo Sabres prospect let in three goals on five shots in the first three minutes of the period.
Rightfully so, the team isn’t putting any of the blame on their Russian netminder, who was their MVP throughout the regular-season.
“He kept us in there in the first two periods and he was great in our first three games,” said Pufahl. “He’s a great goalie and you can’t blame him for this loss. We only scored one goal.”
“He’s been great all year,” added Walker. “You can’t blame anything on him.”
Nathan Burns finally put Saskatoon on the board at the 11:40 mark in the third, but by that time, it was too little too late for the Bridge City Boys.
To Saskatoon’s defence, they were playing back-to-back games against two teams with 16 playoff wins apiece. Not to mention, they were up against a Knights club that was eager to redeem themselves after falling 9-2 to the Halifax Mooseheads on Tuesday.
"Tonight, we ran out of gas," said Blades coach-GM Lorne Molleken. "I thought that we played fairly well in the three round-robin games even though we were outchanced in every game. After that Halifax game [which the Blades won on Sunday] there was so much emotion around it with the team and the fans. We came down and we just couldn't regain that emotion and that energy."
“We just didn’t have the energy,” added Walker. “I think some guys were worn down. We have been through three wars and I don’t think this game went down as the others (did).”
Injuries and suspensions also affected the Blades. They were without Montreal Canadiens defensive prospect Dalton Thrower because of his suspension from his head shot on Portland Winterhawks winger Taylor Leier and 19-year-old forward Nathan Burns was playing through an ankle injury.
“Nathan Burns sprained his ankle and had to freeze his ankle twice throughout each game,” noted Molleken.
With it all said and done, is a 1-3 record really a let down from the Blades? They were, after all, a team without a playoff win in the last two years up against three clubs that conquered their respective leagues this season. It seems, besides running out of gas against London in the tiebreaker of course, the Blades put in a respectable effort. They topped a very talented Halifax club 5-2 and kept up with London and Portland in their round-robin games, for the most part anyways. These three performances were light years ahead of how they played in the playoffs against the seventh-place Medicine Hat Tigers.
The Blades don't have a banner to show for hosting the 2013 Memorial Cup, but at least they can hold their heads up high knowing they held their own against the three top dogs of the CHL.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen