Outshot 43-36, outscored and now on the brink of elimination, the Red Deer Rebels have a long bus ride back to Brandon ahead of them.
The Rebels will have to dig deep and do something they haven’t done since April 1, win on the road.
A 4-2 loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings on Wednesday night has the Rebels down 3-1 in the best-of-seven Western Hockey League Eastern Conference Final.
Despite doubling up the Rebels on the scoreboard, the game was a goaltending duel between the Wheat Kings’ Jordan Papirny and the Rebels’ Rylan Toth who combined for 73 saves.
“Tother was exceptional tonight with the amount of saves he had to make and the quality of the saves,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “He kept us in the game and gave us a chance going in to the third. We just weren’t good enough tonight.”
Brandon scored twice in the first period, and twice more in the third. Tim McGauley and John Quenneville both had a goal and an assist while Jayce Hawryluk and Nolan Patrick each had two assists.
Sutter said they had discussions with the team to expect the Wheat Kings to raise their game for Game 4, responding from the 6-2 loss in Game 3.
“I don’t think we played well at all,” said Sutter. “It’s disappointing where it’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals and we didn’t have any push tonight.
“We tied it up early in the third, but we made that mistake that killed us all night — turnovers. We didn’t play smart with the puck, we weren’t hard enough with pucks and it cost us.”
In the third period, the Rebels poured on the pressure with 20 shots on Papirny, but only had DeBrusk’s power play goal to show for it. DeBrusk took a feed down low from Adam Helewka and walked in front of the net. He fired a wrist shot past Papriny to tie the game back up at 2-2, his seventh goal of the playoffs. The goal was scored in the dying minutes of a power play as Patrick was in the box for roughing to end the second period.
Toth was on the bench with 1:30 to go in the game and the Rebels did get their chances, but Tanner Kaspick who sealed it for the Wheat Kings scoring the empty net goal.
A sluggish first and second period for the Rebels, had them outshot 31-16. Were it not for a tremendous effort from Toth, the game would have been a lot worse for the Rebels.
“They were better than us in pretty much every area and it showed,” said Jake DeBrusk, Rebels forward. “Without Tother in the net it would have got out of hand pretty quick.”
But on the other end of the ice, Jordan Papirny rebounded from a dismal Game 3 performance to shut the door time and time again on the Rebels. A night before, Papirny was pulled from the net in the first period after allowing four goals on nine shots.
“As a goalie, things like that happen,” Papirny said. “People are going to forget about that and the only thing that people are going to remember is how you respond the next night. That was kind of what I was thinking about going into the game, to respond really well and be mentally strong back there. The boys did an awesome job tonight.”
On Wednesday he made numerous key saves, including one when the Rebels had the extra attacker late looking to equalize, sealed the game.
The series now returns to Brandon for Game 5 on Friday, puck drop is at 6:30 p.m.
Notes: Akash Bains was a late scratch from the lineup leaving Taden Rattie to play in his 12th playoff game this post-season … 5,608 fans packed into the Enmax Centrium.