Rebels 4 Hurricanes 2
The Red Deer Rebels, with a little help from their friends, nailed down fourth place in the WHL Eastern Conference Friday at the Centrium.
It was, however, anything but easy, as Tyson Ness blocked a shot at the Red Deer blueline and scored an empty-net goal with six seconds remaining to secure a 4-2 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes before a gathering of 5,167.
The Rebels jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead before the ‘Canes rallied to turn a potential rout into a nail-biter.
“After the quick start offensively, we got sloppy and spent too much time in our own zone,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
But when it was all said and done, the Rebels — coupled with the Regina Pats’ 6-2 win over the Prince Albert Raiders — were able to secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“It was nice to have Regina beat them,” said Red Deer captain Turner Elson. “This (home-ice advantage) was our goal at the start of the season. Everyone in the room is proud and now we have to keep pushing to get ready for the playoffs.”
Ness opened the scoring a mere 1:33 into the contest, ripping a rebound past ‘Canes netminder Ty Rimmer as the trailer on a three-on-two.
Elson potted a short-handed marker eight minutes later to give the Rebels a two-goal cushion. His shot was blocked by a Lethbridge defender but the Rebels captain stayed with the play and stepped around Rimmer to notch his 26th of the season.
From there, Rhyse Dieno connected at 18:24, patiently waiting for Rimmer to go down and sliding the puck into the far corner.
But that was it for the home side until Ness scored the clincher.
Brady Ramsay tallied from a scramble in the final minute of the opening period and the visitors took advantage of a horrid line change to pull to within a goal early in the middle stanza.
‘We got a little lackadaisical and obviously it was a bad line change,” said Sutter.
On the play in question, Rimmer passed the puck up ice to Jaimen Yakubowski, who busted in with Jamal Watson on a two-man breakaway. Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak stopped Yakubowski, but Watson was there to bury the rebound.
Sutter called a timeout at that point.
“Mentally, we just lost it for a bit, but the guys regrouped after the timeout and I thought we played a good third period,” said the Rebels bench boss. “We had some quality chances and never gave up much.”
Indeed, after being outshot 28-22 through 40 minutes, the Rebels held a 14-8 advantage in shots while carrying the play in the final frame.
Rimmer, however, held his ground while making a series of sizzling stops and finished with 32 saves.
Bartosak was equally as splendid at the other end, blocking 34 shots for this 33rd win of the season.
Both power plays fired blanks, with the ‘Canes finishing zero-for-five and the Rebels coming up empty on four occasions. But the short-handed marker gave the home side the edge in the special teams department.
“We pressured them a lot. Everyone jumped up and we forced them to make mistakes and created a lot of odd-man breaks,” said Elson, in reference to the Rebels’ strong penalty killing performance.
And yet, after firing three goals in the first 18 minutes and change, the Rebels had to wonder if they’d score again.
“We had a lot of chances and we have to bear down on those,” said Elson.. “But overall we had a good night and in the third period we played a lot better while keeping them to a minimum of shots.”
The win was the Rebels’ second over the Hurricanes in three nights.
“We did what we wanted to do in these last two games. We were able to get the four points and we also got some help from the outside,” said Sutter.
The Rebels will likely meet the Raiders in a conference quarter-final starting March 22 at the Centrium. Playoff tickets go on sale Monday morning.
The Raiders would tie Red Deer for wins and points if they prevailed in their remaining four games and the Rebels lost their final three. But although the clubs split the season series 2-2, the Rebels would still get fourth place due to the fact both Prince Albert wins were in extra time.
“Our goal from here is to be a good team and make sure our accountability and responsibility is where they need to be at this time of the year,” said Sutter.
• Defenceman Riley Boomgaarden was inserted into the Rebels lineup with the absence of Devan Fafard, who suffered a facial injury when he was slammed into the boards by ‘Canes forward Graham Hood in Wednesday’s 4-0 win at Lethbridge.
Hood was assessed a boarding major and game misconduct for the hit and was then handed a two-game suspension, the first of which he served Friday.