Memorial Cup host Saskatoon Blades down 0-3 in first round

Memo to the Saskatoon Blades: On The Edge was only intended to be a catchy title.

Perhaps the MasterCard Memorial Cup host team has a comeback in it against captain Hunter Shinkaruk and the Medicine Hat Tigers, but the WHL's worst fear is three periods away from coming to pass. The Blades are on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs seven weeks before the Memorial Cup after losing 5-2 to the Tigers in Tuesday's Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarter-final to fall behind 3-0.

Talk about peaks and valleys. Saskatoon won 18 games in a row in a regular season, which alleviated some concerns about how competitive it would be in May. Now it's gone cold again, getting sucked into the Tigers' trap. Their top scorer, Josh Nicholls, who had 47 goals and 85 points in the regular season, could also face supplemental discipline after, in Blades radio voice's Les Lazaruk's words, "baseball swung" his stick at the back of Shinkaruk's legs and got a slashing major/game misconduct.

Update: The Saskatoon StarPhoenix's Daniel Nugent-Bowman reports Nicholls will return Wednesday.

Only one WHL team has ever clawed back to win a series after falling into an 0-3 hole. The last Cup host to fall in the first round of the playoffs, the 2001 Regina Pats, was also led by Blades coach-GM Lorne Molleken.

If the Blades go down Wednesday, they will have a 51-day wait before playing again on May 17 in the Memorial Cup opener. How I Met Your Mother fans will actually meet Ted Mosby's spouse before that happens.

Tuesday, Saskatoon was down 5-0 before the game was 22 minutes old. Two-time world junior championship medallist Andrey Makarov was also hooked after stopping only 10-of-15 shots. Saskatoon managed to make the score respectable, but not until well after it had lost the plot.

"It took them 2½ games, roughly, to figure out they have to play the system they were asked to play," Blades assistant coach Jerome Engele told 92.9 The Bull following the loss. "When we finally started playing and following the system, we were getting control of the game. We were entering the zone with speed. The only thing we weren't doing is getting people in front of the net. We have to get more traffic

"Discipline has obviously been a problem and also, to start the game, really peppering their end, getting the puck in, going to work. We were skating in cement."

The Blades languished around the .500 mark for the first four months, but tore through a span of games heavy on matchups against East Division pushovers to finish with 94 points and earn the second second in their conference. They also swept the regular-season series against Medicine Hat.

Trouble adapting to the trap

However, it's reverted to its form from the past two post-seasons. They were swept by the Tigers in the first round last spring and also got swept in the second round in 2011 by the Kootenay Ice following a 56-win regular season. Tuesday's setback was their 11th consecutive playoff loss, which only feeds the stigma of a team which cannot win in the playoffs.

"They do a neutral-ice zone trap and they do a good job of it," Engele said. "And for some reason, we will not, or were not, dumping the puck. You got to hit the red line and have your forward moving and get the puck in behind the four of them [Tigers' checkers] who are lined up, keep it away from the goaltender [Cam Lanigan] so we can start our cycle and get some shots on the net.

"The frustration's there because they're working hard and they're a tight-checking team," Engele added.

Shinkaruk (1G-1A, +1), Curtis Valk (1G-2A, +1) and defenders Derek Rychman (2A, +2) and Dylan Bredo (2A, -1) each had multiple-point nights for the Tigers. Lanigan finished with exactly 42 saves for the third consecutive game. Lanigan was on the other side of a near-comeback from a 0-3 deficit last spring, when the Kamloops Blazers fought off match point three times before expiring in Game 7 against the Portland Winterhawks.

Medicine Hat's first opportunity to stick the dagger is on Wednesday. A Blades win would force the series back to Saskatoon for Game 5 on Friday.

While only one team has come back from 3-0 down, it's happened in two of the past three seasons in the other two CHL leagues. Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon and the Halifax Mooseheads pulled it off in a QMJHL second-round series in April 2012 against the Quebec Remparts, with Drouin getting the Game 7 overtime winner. In 2010, Adam Henrique and Taylor Hall helped the Windsor Spitfires do it in the OHL semifinal against Jeff Skinner and the Kitchener Rangers, but Windsor had a considerable edge in scoring chances during each of the three losses.

Bottom line: a Blades loss will exhume every jab and jibe that's ever been taken at the Bridge City Boys. The Blades franchise is hosting its second Memorial Cup, yet it's a charter WHL franchise which has never won a post-season championship.

Not over yet...

All that being said, there are examples of Cup hosts bowing out early, getting a mental break and acquitting themselves admirably in the Memorial Cup. The 2012 Shawinigan Cataractes and 1999 Ottawa 67's each won the tournament after losing in the second round of their league playoffs and having more than a month off. The 2010 Brandon Wheat Kings also reached the final after sitting for three weeks following a loss in a WHL semifinal.

(s/t: Cam Charron, Kelly Friesen.)

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to

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