After going oh-fer on a three-game weekend road trip, the CanElson Drilling Estevan Bruins are now in a tight spot when it comes to earning a top-three playoff spot in the Sherwood Conference.
The Bruins (21-22-0-1) dipped below .500 for the first time since September after losing 5-2 in Melfort on Friday, 4-3 in Nipawin on Saturday and 2-1 in Humboldt on Sunday.
Estevan is tied for third place with Melville, but the Millionaires have six games in hand. Second-place Yorkton is two points ahead, with four games in hand.
“We can't get away with any mistakes. They end up in the back of the net,” said Bruins head coach Keith Cassidy.
“I would say that would be a product of getting mileage on our younger guys, but it's not our younger guys making the mistakes. The guys that have been in the league for two or three years, those are the mistakes that shouldn't be happening.
“The mistakes that cost us against Humboldt were the same thing. The recurring theme is our core young group is playing real strong and the other guys have to keep up,” Cassidy said.
The three-games-in-three-nights trip began on a sour note with Friday's loss to the last-place Mustangs (8-27-2-4).
“They've played us pretty tough all year and it seems when our two teams get together, there's not a lot of intensity to it. We got up a goal and thought we were on our way and instead of putting the hammer down and finishing them off, we got into penalty trouble and that gave them life,” said Cassidy.
The teams were tied 2-2 after 20 minutes, with the Bruins' only goals of the game coming less than two minutes apart courtesy of Dylan Smith and Tyler Paslawski.
Melfort would take the lead early in the second period and add two more markers in the third. Connor Bradshaw (2), Mitch Berg, Jarett Zentner and Landon Belchamber scored for the Mustangs.
New goalie Tyler Ross, acquired by the Bruins earlier in the week as a free agent, started the game. On Saturday, the Bruins brought a better effort but were burned by former teammate Jesse Bernard, who scored the winner with 24 seconds left in regulation to hand Nipawin the victory. Grant Jensen had scored with less than six minutes to tie a game that the Bruins appeared to have under control.
“Two mental breakdowns ended up costing us the game,” said Cassidy. “The game-winner was a blatant error by one of our older guys and those things gotta stop happening.”
Austin Yano scored twice and Cole Olson had the other goal for the Bruins, who led 3-2 after two periods. Mitch Doell and Jeff Datoff scored for Nipawin in the second period.
Steven Glass was in goal for Estevan.
The Bruins saved their best play of the weekend for last, but it wasn't enough to knock off the white-hot Broncos, who won their 14th straight game.
Cassidy said he was happy with his team's play against Humboldt, despite the final shot tally, which read 40-20 for the home side.
“They've certainly got a group of very skilled individuals there. They play with a lot of confidence. But we skated with them for 60 minutes. We're going to match up with them again at the end of the month and I'm looking forward to that game,” he said.
Andrew Herle opened the scoring for the RBC Cup hosts nine minutes into the first period and the Broncos would take that lead to the break.
Bruins captain Josh Jelinski evened things up just 11 seconds into the second and the deadlock would hold until late in the third, when Andrew Johnston scored with 5:05 remaining.
Glass started the game, but was injured eight minutes into the second period when Calder Neufeld collided with him while backchecking. He came out of the game in favour of Ross.
“We're hoping it's nothing major but we'll find out in a bit,” Cassidy said of the injury. “I'm not a doctor, but I think he just hyperextended it and he shouldn't be out too long. It gave an opportunity to Ross to show what he can do and he did real well.”
Coming out of the weekend empty-handed, including a failure to take either the Nipawin or Humboldt game to overtime, could hurt the Bruins in the playoff race.
“Realistically, though we came home with no points, that's certainly going to hurt us down the stretch but we're going to finish where we deserve to finish,” said Cassidy.
The Bruins are home for three games this weekend, hosting La Ronge on Friday and Flin Flon Saturday and Sunday. Sunday's game is a 6 p.m. start.