MEDICINE HAT — Too many games in too few nights resulted in a Red Deer Rebels Western Hockey League defeat Saturday.
That, and a handful of costly turnovers.
“It caught up to us a bit” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, in reference to his club’s busy itinerary, following a 5-3 loss to the host Medicine Hat Tigers.
“Our battle level was still where it needed to be, but we had turnovers which hurt us. We turned pucks over on three of their goals.”
The Rebels, playing their fourth game in five nights, were slow out of the gate and gave up the game’s first goal when Tigers captain Curtis Valk connected 6:40 into the contest.
Sutter called a timeout at that point and his club responded in a positive manner.
“For the first six to seven minutes of the game we were really on our heels,” said the Red Deer bench boss. “We took a timeout and got going again and had a really good last half of the period.”
Scott Feser pulled the visitors even with his 13th goal of the season at 8:25 and Adam Musil potted his 10th just under five minutes later for a 2-1 Rebels lead.
Blake Penner responded for the Tigers before the period was over and Valk — with his 43rd of the season — scored on the power play just 54 seconds into the middle frame and teammate Anthony Ast followed with a short-handed tally eight minutes later.
“In the second and third periods we just didn’t spend enough time with the puck,” said Sutter, who squad was outshot 28-13 over the final 40 minutes and 45-24 overall.
Still, the Rebels refused to go away. Wyatt Johnson cut the Tigers lead to one with his 13th of the season at 12:44 of the middle frame and the hosts never struck again until Valk completed his hat trick with an empty-netter with 1:13 remaining in the game.
“We stayed with it, we kept working. We just didn’t get what we needed to get done as far as the end result,” said Sutter.
“Right now that’s what counts. We need to get wins.”
The Rebels, with three regular-season games remaining — Wednesday versus the visiting Kootenay Ice (7 p.m.) and a home-and set with the Edmonton Oil Kings on the weekend — are tied with the Brandon Wheat Kings and Prince Albert Raiders for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Two teams will move on to the playoffs and the other will be done.
“Right now it’s a three-horse race. One team (Prince Albert) has four games left, the other two have three,” Sutter noted. “We have to focus on winning all three.”
The Raiders visit the Moose Jaw Warriors and Regina Pats, then conclude with a home-and-home with the Saskatoon Blades. The Wheat Kings, meanwhile, host Saskatoon and then play Regina home and away.
“Our schedule doesn’t favour us when compared to the other two teams,” said Sutter. “But we don’t control that. All we can control is how we play and see what happens. That’s all we can do.”
• Patrik Bartosak, selected as the game’s second star, turned aside 40 shots Saturday, while Marek Langhamer made 21 saves at the other end.
The first and third stars were Valk and teammate Cole Sanford.