The Saskatoon Blades are playing with a cutting edge.
The Red Deer Rebels experienced that first-hand Tuesday at the Centrium, falling 4-0 to the visitors in a Western Hockey League contest viewed by a recorded gathering of 4,293.
The victory was the Blades’ 16th in succession, and they made it look easy against a tired Rebels squad that was playing its fourth game in five nights.
“We’ve been playing really well. We’ve been working hard and sticking to our systems,” said Blades captain Brenden Walker, who notched a pair of goals — his 26th and 27th of the season.
“I think we’re seeing success because of those things.”
Walker, 6:24 into the contest, potted the only goal the Blades would need on a night when Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak faced 51 shots and Andrey Makarov stared down just 24 at the other end, a mere handful that were of the dangerous variety.
Despite the one-sided contest that Bartosak kept close until late in the second period, Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter wasn’t throwing his squad under the bus.
“We’re going through a real tough part of our schedule with this being our fourth game in five nights,” he said, referring also to outings Friday at Lethbridge (2-0 win), Saturday at home against Prince Albert (4-2 win) and Sunday’s 5-4 loss at Medicine Hat.
“But it is what it is and we’re not making excuses,” he continued.
“We just never had the energy or the emotional level we had to have here to give ourselves a chance tonight.
“Obviously that was reflected in the shots on goal.”
The Rebels were zero-for-three on the power play in the opening period despite generating some pressure. Defenceman Haydn Fleury had Makarov beat on a screened shot, but the puck rang off the post and the home squad never got much going the rest of the way.
“Our first period was fine,” said Sutter. “We had some opportunities on the power play but didn’t capitalize.
“In the second period they took it to us pretty good. We just didn’t seem to have the emotional level we needed to have moving forward.”
The Blades dominated the middle frame, outshooting their hosts 24-3 and finally being rewarded when Lukas Sutter connected on a sharp-angle backhand — a rare shot that Bartosak would have liked back — at 17:25 and Nick Zajac scored on a wrap-around at 19:50.
Walker rounded out the Blades’ attack with three seconds left in the game, one-timing a cross-ice feed from Michael Ferland.
The win was the first for the Blades in four meeting with the Rebels this season.
“Absolutely, we wanted this one tonight,” said Walker. “It’s getting close to the playoffs and we wanted to make a statement here.
“We’re hosting the Memorial Cup (in May) and because of that there’s a lot of pressure on us. But at the same time we’re ready to play every night and we’re coming out hard.”
As Sutter pointed out, the Blades are built for this season — and this season only — with their roster consisting of 16 players 19 years of age and older.
“We tried in the third period but we just couldn’t get anything going,” said Sutter. “ You look at their lineup and they’ve put it together for this season. And to win as many games as they have (in succession) they’ve obviously got it figured out.
“But at the same time I don’t get too caught up in worrying about other teams. We have work to do and we have a plan we’re following.
“We have a younger team. It is what it is. They (Blades) are a very good team that they’ve put together for this season.”
Bartosak was simply splendid in the second period, coming up with pad saves on Matej Stransky, Ferland and Erik Benoit and making a glove stab of a screened point shot by Red Deer native Graeme Craig.
Makarov, while not busy, took a goal away from Brooks Maxwell with two minutes remaining in the game.
The Rebels return to action Friday when they travel to Cranbrook to take on the Kootenay Ice. Red Deer will host the Swift Current Broncos 24 hours later.
• Advocate’s three stars: (1) Brenden Walker . . . Scored twice and was a constant threat on the power play; (2) Patrik Bartosak . . . Rebels netminder kept the score at least respectable; (3) Darren Dietz . . . Blades defender showed why he’s one of the best in the league.