Lack of discipline hasn’t hurt the Red Deer Rebels yet in the 2017 WHL playoffs, but they’re playing with fire going into game five Saturday night in Lethbridge.
The Rebels lead the series 3-1 but are the third most penalized team in the post-season with 65 minutes through four games and have given up 22 power play opportunities to the Hurricanes.
Red Deer has been able to off-set that in three ways: the first, is a white-hot power play currently clipping at 38.9 percent, converting on 7/18 chances and one short-handed goal.
That is good for third in the WHL so far these playoffs, behind Medicine Hat and Seattle.
Secondly, they have limited the Hurricanes to just three goals on 22 man advantages which is a surprise considering Lethbridge was sixth in power play percentage in the regular season.
Third, Red Deer has come-from-behind in the third period in all three of their wins.
Discipline and penalty trouble has been an issue for both sides, which Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter acknowledged in an interesting way Thursday night after game four.
“We talked about that at the end of the second period. It’s emotion. We have to have controlled emotion. In that first period we had a player that was bleeding terribly from the nose and mouth from a high stick and it wasn’t seen,” Sutter said.
”That’s the frustrating part from our perspective. But I’m not going to run down to the officials room and start screaming and yelling and getting an $1000 fine.”
Of note, Hurricanes GM Peter Anholt was fined $1000 on Thursday for “actions following game at Red Deer on March 29”.
Rebels veteran forward Lane Zablocki, who had two goals Thursday but also 8 minutes in penalties admitted the team needs to be better in that area of the game.
“There are a few things we need to work on. Our discipline obviously, that starts with the older guys including me. I think for the most part five-on-five we played pretty well and we were dominant, so we have to keep that up,” Zablocki said after Thursday’s win.
Lost in the madness and heroics of game three and four was the return of Rebels captain Adam Musil. Musil suffered a foot injury due to an off-ice activity on March 5, and hadn’t played in the final weeks of the season.
He was inserted into the middle on the Rebels top forward group between Zablocki and Evan Polei in his first game back Wednesday.
The captain has assists in both games since he landed back in the lineup.
Spacek, Polei and Zablocki red hot
Michael Spacek has quietly gone about his business these playoffs, and is one point off the WHL lead in points with nine.
He is just four points behind the 13 he had in the 2016 WHL playoffs for the Rebels in 17 games.
Red Deer’s leading point producer in the regular season with 85 points in 59 games has also been a key contributor in limiting the Hurricanes opportunities on the power play.
When the Rebels acquired 18-year-old Lane Zablocki at the trade deadline from the Regina Pats, I don’t think anyone anticipated the breakout he’s gone through.
He had 19 goals in 31 games in the regular season and leads all WHL players in the playoffs with five goals. The Wetaskiwin native did have seven goals in nine playoff games with the Pats last season.
Zablocki has been skating with alternate captain clutch Evan Polei in the playoffs and the duo has found some instant magic. Both players also hail from small town of Wetaskiwin, population 12,655.
Polei has two game-winning goals through four playoff contests
, adding to his impressive five in the regular season. The 21-year-old has eight points in four games this post-season, which is four off the pace he set in 2016.
Rebels road record
The Rebels broke a streak of almost two years without a win in Lethbridge to begin the series, but struggled in game two.
Red Deer will need to overcome a sub par 12-17-3-4 regular season road record to close out the series in five games.
As this series has proved through four contests, you just never know.