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Goaltending keeps Rebels at bay

When it rains, it pours, and when it snows . . . it’s a blizzard. The Red Deer Rebels’ current situation is akin to a bad weather report. But at least a forecast will pretty much guarantee an end to nasty weather, while it’s totally up to the Rebels to put the brakes on their losing skid. The Rebels suffered their fourth consecutive WHL setback Saturday night before a recorded crowd of 5,691 at the Enmax Centrium, falling 3-2 in overtime to the Prince George Cougars despite outshooting the visitors 42-26 and outplaying their guests through most of the contest.

When it rains, it pours, and when it snows . . . it’s a blizzard.

The Red Deer Rebels’ current situation is akin to a bad weather report. But at least a forecast will pretty much guarantee an end to nasty weather, while it’s totally up to the Rebels to put the brakes on their losing skid.

The Rebels suffered their fourth consecutive WHL setback Saturday night before a recorded crowd of 5,691 at the Enmax Centrium, falling 3-2 in overtime to the Prince George Cougars despite outshooting the visitors 42-26 and outplaying their guests through most of the contest.

“That’s the way it works right now, the way things have been going,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We’re having a tough time getting wins, a tough time scoring some goals.

“We really dominated this team here tonight . . . outplayed them in basically every category. Their goaltender played outstanding. Without question, he was certainly the difference.”

Cougars netminder Tavin Grant made 40 saves while posting just his third victory of the season. Included in his night’s work were 16 first-period stops and 14 in the third period, and while the 16-year-old rookie faced just 10 shots in the second, his teammates were on their heels pretty much the entire stanza.

“We had an enormous amount of scoring chances tonight but didn’t capitalize on them,” said Sutter. “In the second period they had just under four minutes of time in our zone, but we make a couple of miscues and it ends up in our net.”

The Rebels boss was referring to a pair of middle-frame markers by Cougars forwards Kody McDonald, who deflected Josh Anderson’s point shot at 4:14, and Zach Pochiro, who took a corner pass from Chase Witala while all alone at the side of net and quickly whipped the puck past Red Deer netminder Taz Burman 12 and a half minutes later.

The goals gave the visitors a 2-1 lead that held up until Brooks Maxwell evened the count with a third-period power play tally, beating Grant to the top corner from the left faceoff circle.

Unfortunately for the hosts, Presten Kopeck was flagged for interference with 52 seconds remaining in regulation time and the Cougars struck in overtime just as the Rebels forward was getting back into the play. Witala pulled the trigger on the winner at 1:15 of overtime, connecting with a rapid volley from the bottom of the circle.

“I got a nice pass from the point and decided to try a one-timer,” said Witala, the Cougar’s’ top scorer this season with 28 goals. “I got lucky when it found its way in. It felt pretty good.”

The victory, the Cougars’ second in two nights following a 4-2 upset of Medicine Hat, kept the club in a tight, three-team race — including Kamloops and Vancouver — for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.

“We’re right there, we just have to keep fighting for our lives,” said Witala. “These two wins are huge for our confidence. We had that stretch where we were losing a lot but now we’re finding ways to win.”

While Grant came into the game with unimpressive stats — including a 4.97 goals-against average and .826 save percentage — he’s a valuable member of the team, Witala insisted.

“He’s been spectacular for us. He’s probably the hardest-working guy on the team,” said the Cougars sniper. “He’s not playing much this season but he works hard in practice and in the gym to get better.

“He’s actually won us a few games this season. This wasn’t his first good game.”

Burman, meanwhile, made 23 saves in a rare start — getting the call when Rylan Toth fell sick prior to the game — and couldn’t be faulted on any other the three shots that eluded him.

“We had to make a call in warm-up and went with Tazzer and I thought he played really well,” said Sutter.

Now his players have to get back on a winning path, starting with tonight’s road game versus the Prince Albert Raiders, their initial opponents on a four-game Saskatchewan trip that includes stops in Saskatoon, Swift Current and Regina on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

“We’re having a tough time right now and we have to find a way to get over that,” said Sutter. “This adversity, as I said before, will be good for us, but we have to get back in the win column.

“This obviously wasn’t the weekend we wanted at home, getting just one point out of a possible four,” added Sutter, whose club fell 2-1 to the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes Friday. “We played probably 40 excellent minutes last night and didn’t get any points. Tonight we play a full game and get one point out of it. But it is what it is, we just have to keep our heads up and keep pushing here and we’ll get out of it.”

• Rookie Jeff de Wit notched his third goal of the season to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes Saturday . . . The Rebels headed east Monday without captain Conner Bleackley, who sat out his third consecutive game Saturday with a lower-body injury.

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