The Red Deer Rebels were all over their guests in the second period of Saturday’s WHL outing at the Enmax Centrium and seemingly en route to a crucial victory in their quest to land a playoff berth.
Appearances, of course, can be deceiving. While the Rebels were the better club though the majority of the contest, they nevertheless suffered a difficult 5-3 loss to the Swift Current Broncos after surrendering a 3-1 lead.
The Rebels’ downfall started with an offensive zone turnover — which led to a three-on-two goal by Broncos’ forward Coda Gordon — in the final minute of the middle frame and concluded with some rookie third-period jitters from netminder Taz Burman.
“You’re up 3-1 and give up a bad goal in the last minute of the second and give the opposition some momentum going into the third,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “You can’t make a turnover like that in the offensive zone.”
As Sutter noted, the Rebels had plenty of time to regain the momentum, but instead gave up tying a goal a mere 1:12 into the third period and then a tough winning tally 11 minutes later.
Jay Merkley potted the equalizer, beating Burman over the shoulder from the right face-off circle, and Andrew Johnson netted the winner on a bad read by Burman. Johnson, in the corner, beat the rookie stopper with a shot from along the goal line that deflected in off Burman’s stick.
“Taz had a real tough third period. He’s a young goalie, a 16-year-old, and he has to learn from this,” said Sutter. “Yet at this time of the year we can’t be giving away points like that.
“We’re scrambling to get into the playoffs and this was a game we obviously could have and should have won with the way we played. We played well and were really good with a lot of our details. It’s disappointing for the kids. I feel bad for them because they deserved better here tonight, but at the end of the night we didn’t win and that’s the bottom line.”
The clubs were tied 1-1 after period on goals by Red Deer’s Rhyse Dieno at 10:16 and Johnson five minutes later. Dieno beat Broncos netminder Landon Bow over the glove hand after taking a perfect feed from Brooks Maxwell and Johnson responded by slipping the puck through Burman’s pads from close range while on the tail end of a give-and-go with Gordon.
Scott Feser restored Red Deer’s lead at 7:07 of the second period on a great individual effort, putting the puck through Bow’s legs while being slashed from behind on a breakaway. Vukie Mpofu upped the count to 3-1 two minutes later, converting a backhand following some solid work down low by his teammates.
And then it all came tumbling down for the Rebels.
“We were lucky to get that late second-period goal,” said Broncos GM/head coach Mark Lamb. “We came down and put it wide of the net and then they came back with a transition play (leading to the turnover). I had my three best players out at the time and we got a break and got a little momentum for the third period.”
Gordon’s tally was indeed a stroke of good fortune for the visitors, but it paled in comparison to the winning goal.
“It’s a hard game and that was an unlucky break for them,” said Lamb of Johnson’s second goal of the night. “We were really lucky to score a goal like that and get the win. I thought the energy of some of our guys was lacking tonight after a tough game last night (4-1 loss at Edmonton Friday). We’re very happy to get on the bus, get out of here and go home.”
With Burman on the bench, Gordon scored an empty-net goal with 15 seconds remaining.
The Rebels remain tied with the Prince Albert Raiders, who fell 6-3 at Portland Saturday, for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, and trail sixth place Swift Current by six points and are four back of seventh-place Brandon.
Red Deer can only look ahead to Wednesday’s date with the visiting Kamloops Blazers.
“It feels like that’s what we’ve been doing for quite some time now, trying to put the day behind us and moving on to the next day,” said Sutter. “But really, that’s all you can do. As tough as some days can be we have to stay positive and stay with it.
“If we play every game from here on in like we did tonight, we’ll win our share of games. But we have to make sure we don’t have a period like the third tonight. We have to make sure we get saves and are good with our details.”