Pandas sweep ‘Horns; clinch playoff spot

Pandas sweep ‘Horns; clinch playoff spot

EDMONTON – Despite a feisty University of Lethbridge Pronghorns squad, the No.5 University of Alberta Pandas clawed their way to a 4-2 victory to clinch a playoff spot, Saturday night at Clare Drake Arena.

Fourth-year forwards Lindsey Cunningham and Tess Houston each had three-point nights, the former potting a pair of goals and an assist while Houston tallied the game-winner to go along with two helpers. Rookie forward Hannah Olenyk also recorded a couple of assists while sophomore rearguard Morgan Kelly and fourth-year forward Gillian Altheim added lone goals.

Team captain Sadie Lenstra scored a goal and an assist for the visiting Pronghorns, blueliner Jocelyn Sabourin netting Lethbridge's second goal in the loss.

With the win, Alberta reclaims the top spot in the Canada West standings, briefly held this afternoon by Manitoba with their victory over Regina, the Pandas holding a one-point lead with 41 points so far in the season while Manitoba has 40. Both teams, as well as third-place UBC with 39 points, clinched playoff spots tonight in what looks to be a tight playoff race that will go down to the wire.

Lethbridge falls to 4-16 on the season, but still has a chance to catch sixth-place Regina but needs to leapfrog Mount Royal to get there.

Both teams had great opportunities to get the first goal in tonight's match, third-year forward Jessica Kampjes getting a clear breakaway seven minutes in before shooting wide and Jenae Culp, hailing from Leduc, Alta., finding herself alone in front halfway through the opening frame but Panda netminder Lindsey Post made the pad save to keep the game scoreless.

Cunningham, who had a three-game point streak snapped on Friday, then found a loose puck in a goalmouth scramble at the 16:45 mark on the power-play, putting the rubber home for her 10th of the season.

Yet Lethbridge goaltender Crystal Patterson stopped 11 other shots in the first period, keeping her team in the game before they could reply in the second.

Five minutes into the middle stanza, with the puck getting lost in the skates of Alberta defenders in the Panda high slot, Lenstra dug it free, firing a wrister off the crossbar and down to knot the game up at one.

Cunningham responded with her second man-advantage marker at the 7:56 mark, grabbing another loose puck, this time in the slot, before backhanding it inside the near post to restore Alberta's one-goal lead.

Sabourin tied things up again, however, ripping a slapshot to the top shelf on a Pronghorn power-play at the 12:17 mark of the second period.

Unfortunately for the visitors, eighteen seconds was all it took for Alberta to get back on top, Olenyk's initial shot stopped by Patterson's pads, but Houston grabbed the rebound at the top of the crease amidst the scramble and roofed it for the 3-2 lead.

The Pandas outshot Lethbridge 17-5 in the second period, and 29-9 after 40 minutes, before returning to a stalwart defensive stance and only a 6-4 shot advantage in the final frame.

The top defence in Canada West also took advantage of opportunities, though, Kelly netting Alberta's third man-advantage marker of the game 52 seconds into the third when she walked across the blueline to change the angle of her shot to elude the Pronghorn goalie, sending it along the ice and off the post for the insurance goal.

Altheim put the final nail in the coffin at the 8:05 mark when, on her rush down the wing, she wristed a shot on net from a sharp angle, the puck ricocheting off Patterson's glove and through her pads for the 5-2 lead.

The Pandas finished the night 3-5 on the power-play while the 'Horns went 0-2.

Alberta will take part in a home-and-home series with Mount Royal next weekend, the Friday game going at 7 p.m. MT in Calgary before the second game takes place at Clare Drake Arena on Saturday at 6 p.m. MT. Lethbridge will also take part in a home-and-home, facing off against the Calgary Dinos in Calgary on Friday before heading to Lethbridge on Saturday, both games going at 7 p.m. MT.