Johnson lifts Rebels over Winterhawks with late goal

The Red Deer Rebels embarked on an extended roller-coaster ride Friday night at the Moda Centre.

PORTLAND — The Red Deer Rebels embarked on an extended roller-coaster ride Friday night at the Moda Centre.

“You know, there are games when you feel like it’s been a long night and tonight was one of those nights where there were so many different flows and momentum changes,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, following his club’s 5-4 Western Hockey League victory over the Portland Winterhawks.

“But we stuck with it and found a way.”

The men of the hour for the visitors were netminder Rylan Toth, who stopped all 15 shots he faced in the third period and finished with 44 saves, and Wyatt Johnson, who scored the decisive goal with 10.8 seconds remaining, beating Portland goalie Michael Bullion high to the glove side from close range. It was Johnson’s ninth goal of the season and second of the game.

The Saskatoon native gave the Rebels a 4-2 lead at 13:51 of the second period before 6,696 fans, but the home side roared back with goals from Dominic Turgeon and Chase De Leo before the intermission.

“It’s been a long road trip and we were worried about our third period here tonight,” said Sutter, whose squad was playing Game 5 of a six-game jaunt. “We were up 4-2, then we made a couple of mistakes and all of a sudden it was 4-4 and they had all the momentum going into the third.

“They threw everything at us, they came at us pretty hard in the third period. But we weathered the storm and Tother made some huge saves. He was outstanding.”

Winterhawks veteran Alex Schoenborn opened the scoring six minutes into the game and Rebels captain Conner Bleackley evened the count three minutes later. Miles Koules restored Portland’s lead at 12:58, but Rebels rookie defenceman Austin Strand answered back at 16:31.

Evan Polei gave the visitors’ their first lead with a power-play tally at 5:07 of the middle stanza, and Johnson made it 4-2 before the hosts stormed back to pull even after 40 minutes.

The Rebels conclude their nine-day trip tonight versus the Tri-City Americans at Kennewick, Wash. Red Deer is 3-1-0-1 on the trip and 9-8-1-1 on the season, good for a third-place tie with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Central Division.

“This was a big win on a long trip. Now we get to go to Tri-City and try to finish it up the right way,” said Sutter.

The Rebels next home game is next Friday against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Red Deer hosts the Saskatoon Blades the following night.

• Red Deer was one-for-two on the power play Friday, while the Winterhawks were zero-for-four with a man advantage . . . The three stars were (1) Portland’s Nic Petan, (2) Turgeon and (3) Johnson, who also picked up an assist on Bleackley’s goal.

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com

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