SASKATOON - The Saskatoon Blades no longer have to hang their heads.
They out-checked the Halifax Mooseheads, then out-Czeched Nathan MacKinnon and Co.
Veteran forward Matej Stransky scored twice and this Memorial Cup just got a heck of a lot more interesting with the much-maligned host team's 5-2 victory over the Quebec league champs before 8,934 Sunday night at the Credit Union Centre.
Stransky, the 19-year-old Dallas pick from Ostrava, Czech Republic, had 40 goals this season, then none in an ice-cold four-game playoff sweep by Medicine Hat.
He opened the scoring in the first period by going hard to the net. In the second, he added to the lead by jumping out of the penalty box and roofing the puck over top-ranked NHL goalie prospect Zach Fucale's glove on the breakaway.
It was sweet revenge for what he considered a weak call holding call on him two minutes earlier. He rolled out the red carpet for the Blades' first playoff win in 14 games over three seasons.
Saskatoon can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
The players, embarrassed by their early playoff failure, didn't just prove they belonged here. Now, they've guaranteed themselves at least a tiebreaker game Thursday.
That's not the only good news.
They also have the best goaltender here.
Two-time Russian world junior Andrey Makarov was better in this one than Friday's 3-2 loss to the London Knights – and he was spectacular at times in that one.
He made saves and chirped at Halifax co-captain Stefan Fournier, his old Lewiston MAINEiacs teammate.
Makarov had to search for a new team after Lewiston folded.
“I had no idea (where I was going),” the Buffalo prospect said. “My agent called me and said we'll see after the (NHL) draft where you're going to go. I want to play in the NHL. That's my dream. I just wanted to stay in the CHL and keep working and get to the NHL.”
He rolled up his sleeves, landed in Saskatoon and has been the Blades' best player for the last two years.
He and his mates held the two Moosehead young guns – Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin – at bay for the most part.
MacKinnon scored his fourth goal in two Cup games in a Halifax third-period surge.
Makarov mixed together stellar play with a little bit of good fortune.
Stransky's countryman Martin Frk, the big Halifax shooter and Detroit prospect, pinged one off the post in the first period.
MacKinnon jammed away at a loose puck in the crease but couldn't convert. On Saturday night, he was banking pucks in off Portland goalie Mac Carruth.
“I'm just trying to give my team a chance to win the game,” Makarov said. “I don't think there's that much pressure for me right now.”
Fournier joked when they were MAINEiacs way back, Makarov was the sweetest-smelling goalie in the Canadian Hockey League.
“Maybe after the game, I use my cologne,” Makarov said with a big grin. “I smell good. It's good stuff.”
Makarov's roommate in Lewiston was Kirill Kabanov, a Memorial Cup champion with Shawinigan last year.
Before he was injured, Saskatoon checker Lukas Sutter felt like Halifax could be intimidated. The Blades weren't able to impose their will on London.
But the Mooseheads played a blasé first period for the second game in a row after head coach Dominique Ducharme thought his team would be better than when they romped over Portland.
They weren't even close.
The Blades are rusty no more.
Right now, they look like a team capable of being there in next Sunday's final.
Blades 5, Mooseheads 2
Saskatoon goals: Matej Stransky (2), Collin Valcourt, Darren Dietz, Josh Nicholls
Halifax goals: Stephen MacAulay, Nathan MacKinnon
Next: The London Knights (1-0) face the Portland Winterhawks (0-1) Monday night, 8 p.m. (ET) at Credit Union Centre.