Some of the most important goals are not the prettiest.
On Tuesday night, it wasn’t a pretty goal that put the Red Deer Rebels into the Eastern Conference Finals. But it was the most important goal, a Game 7 winner.
Despite being outshot in the third period 15-4, the Rebels took a 2-1 lead with less than seven minutes in regulation in Game 7 of their Western Hockey League Eastern Conference semifinal against the Regina Pats.
Evan Polei, coming in on the right wing, skated hard towards the net and got a shot off, Pats’ goalie Tyler Brown couldn’t squeeze the puck. With the puck loose in the crease, Adam Musil was there on the doorstep to bang home the loose puck.
“Look at the type of goal that happens to get the game winner,” said GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “It’s not a pretty goal by any means, but it’s just the way it works. We were fortunate and I’m happy and relieved we were the ones that got it.”
The goal came on one of only four shots the Rebels got in the third period. The Pats came out flying and controlled the action for much of the third frame.
“We didn’t come out hard enough in the third,” said Musil. “They had a little more jump than us and we just had to regroup. The goal helped us quite a bit. A great team effort by everyone, Rylan Toth stood in there.”
Polei blocked several shots in the third period, keeping the Pats furious onslaught at bay.
“It’s been seven games of hard fought hockey,” said Sutter. “Full marks to Regina, they played hard and did a lot of good things. They’re a young team and they have nothing but great upside there.
“Our group, outside of Game 6, I thought we played well too. Game 7 was a hard fought, with battle after battle.”
It was Rebels goalie Toth, making just his third start in the post-season, who shut the door in the third period. A key save came halfway through the third when he kicked out his leg to stop a Sam Steel shot into what he thought was a wide open cage. He had earlier stopped Wagner on a breakaway with a quick blocker save.
“Two of the last three games, Tother was exceptional,” said Sutter. “Tonight he was solid. Overall I’m proud of the whole group, we rebounded like we needed to.”
Musil called it the toughest playoff game of his life, noting he hadn’t played in too many series yet.
First blood didn’t come until late in the second period when the Rebels, on the PP, started cycling the puck in the attacking zone. Michael Spacek and Jake DeBrusk got the assists, but it was Helewka who wired home the one-timer that caught Brown on the far side of the crease, giving the Rebels a 1-0 lead.
Pats’ forward Adam Brooks, WHL playoff point leader with 23, sniped his seventh goal of the post-season. He beat Toth five-hole to tie the game with 12.6 seconds left in the second period.
Pats coach John Paddock said Brooks’ goal took a lot of pressure of his club.
“The pressure of being the so-called favourite was on (the Rebels),” said Paddock. “I think that helped us take the play to them.
“Cole Sanford, can’t say enough about his play and leadership, and Coby Williams has been basically playing with one hand.”
The Cinderella Pats made the playoffs as a wildcard and upset the Lethbridge Hurricanes in five games in the first round before pushing the Rebels to the full seven.
“This 12 games of playoff experience is going to bode well for us,” said Paddock. “We have lots of guys coming back, but you don’t win anything on paper.”
Aaron Macklin was sent off on a minor penalty for a knee-on-knee collision with Josh Mahura with about three minutes to go in the first period. Mahura, who was out for 70 games this year with a knee injury was on the ice in pain. With some help from the trainer he made it back to the bench, but stayed in the game.
The Rebels now draw the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Eastern Conference Finals. Game 1 is scheduled for Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Game 2 is on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The series returns to Red Deer on April 26 and 27 for Games 3 and 4 at 7 p.m.