In a moment, the whole series shifted.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes arose from the abyss down 3-1 in the first round of the WHL playoffs and with a 4-1 win Sunday, forced Game 7.
Game 6 Sunday could have been tied 2-2 late in the second, but instead a Brandon Hagel backhand slipped just wide of an empty net and so did the Red Deer Rebels chances at closing out the series out home.
Hagel’s miss was turned into a 3-1 advantage by Hurricanes captain Tyler Wong just 23 seconds into the third period and appeared to suck the life out of the Rebels bench.
“Our kids have played hard in this series,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said.
“Trust me, that team has sweat for the last week because they were supposed to beat us four games straight. At the start of the series if you said we were playing a game seven against this team at their building we would take it. That’s the situation we’re in. We were the opponent they wanted to play. They got us and we’ve taken it to game seven.”
Red Deer had only led ten minutes heading into Game 6 before Michael Spacek got the Rebels on the board first with 55 seconds left in the opening frame.
They led for another eight minutes and nine seconds in the second period before Red Deer product Ryan Vandervlis tied the game at one with a laser of a wrist shot high over Riley Lamb’s glove.
“For 30 minutes, we played well. After that first goal we just started getting on our heels a little bit and we started making some mistakes,” Sutter said.
“They are a good team and they capitalized on the mistakes we made. Then we took some penalties that hurt us.”
Hurricanes forward Egor Babenko drove wide and feathered a pass across to Alec Baer who gave the Hurricanes the lead for good late in the second.
“I give Red Deer a lot credit. I thought they pushed real hard off the start and (Stuart) Skinner played a real good game in net and let us hang around a little bit,” Hurricanes head coach Bent Kisio said.
“Vandervlis stepping up and getting a big goal kind of got us going. I thought our third period was an excellent third period.”
Evan Polei compounded matters for a Red Deer comeback attempt midway through the third with a questionable elbow on Tanner Nagel that earned him a five-minute major and game misconduct.
The Rebels were able to kill off the penalty, but ran out of time to mount any sort of comeback attempt.
Before Game 6, Red Deer had scored at least one power play goal in every game, but Sunday couldn’t convert on any of their three opportunities.
Skinner turned aside 33 shots in the Hurricanes’ net while Lamb made 31 stops for Red Deer.
The Rebels will have to snap a two-game losing streak and beat the Hurricanes in Lethbridge if they want to advance to the second round. All that’s left to decide the series is 60 minutes.
“We realize it’s not over,” Kisio said about Game 7.
“They’re going to come in and push hard because it’s a Game 7. Considering the situation we were in, going back home for a game seven and it’s a real exciting opportunity for us.”
Sutters’ Rebels, a heavy underdog coming into the series, are just happy for the opportunity to play a seventh and deciding game.
“If we were told at the start of the series that we would be playing a Game 7, when everyone had us counted out, we had no chance and so forth,” Sutter said.
“We know where we’re at. At the end of the day, everything we do here has been a great experience, going into Game 7 it’s going to be a great experience. Let’s just see what happens, you never know. They’ll be ready to play and so will we.”