As Patrik Bartosak continues to add to his franchise record for most saves in a single season, he continues to keep the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL playoff hunt.
The Rebels rode Bartosak’s coattails to a 3-2 win over the Kootenay Ice before 4,451 fans Wednesday at the Enmax Centrium and in the process moved two points clear of the Prince Albert Raiders — who fell 6-1 at Regina — and into a seventh-place tie with the Brandon Wheat Kings in the Eastern Conference.
As has been the case on so many occasions over the past two seasons, Bartosak was the Rebels’ man of the hour, this time turning aside 47 shots during yet another excellent performance.
The 20-year-old Los Angeles Kings prospect wasn’t interested in basking in the moment, however, not with two big regular-season games remaining Saturday and Sunday against the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“Obviously we needed those two points and we got them, so we’re definitely happy for that,” he said. “But we have to forget about this and start getting ready for the weekend.”
To Bartosak, his stellar outing was all in a day’s work. Nothing more, nothing less.
“That’s my job and I like facing lots of shots better than facing 20 shots a night,” he shrugged. “I’m enjoying it, it’s my last year as a Rebel. I’m definitely having fun out there.”
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter wasn’t having fun from his vantage point, considering his team was outshot 49-28 and generally outplayed a majority of the evening.
“We found a way, but it’s not the way we like to play. Patty was outstanding,” said Sutter.
The Rebels gave up 19 first-period shots but led 1-0 at the intermission, thanks to a goal from Brooks Maxwell, who took a corner pass from Rhyse Dieno, moved around a defenceman and beat Ice netminder Mackenzie Skapski low to the short side.
“Our first period, just our start . . . we had 19 turnovers in the first period and 15 of them were in our own zone,” said Sutter. “We just turned pucks over.”
The Rebels picked up the pace in the middle frame and upped the count to 2-0 when defenceman Nic Charif scored on a wrist shot from point, the puck eluding Skapski due to a last-second screen.
The Ice replied just 53 seconds later as Jaedon Descheneau beat Bartosak from the faceoff circle following a feed from linemate Sam Reinhart. Kootenay defenceman Jordan Steenbergen was called for tripping in the final minute of the period, giving the hosts an opportunity to add to their lead with the infraction carrying over into the third.
But the Rebels never got a sniff with the man advantage.
“We got a bit of momentum in the last half of the second period and we really needed our power play to start the third period well for us,” said Sutter. “We never got going on it and (the loss of momentum) seemed to carry over.”
Outshot 2-17 in the final frame, the Rebels nevertheless matched the visitors goal-for-goal. Scott Feser converted a nifty drop pass from Wyatt Johnson with four minutes remaining and rugged Kootenay forward Jon Martin — with Skapski on the bench — jammed home a loose puck in the crease just over a minute later to keep the end result in doubt.
And in the end it was Bartosak to the rescue, making a huge glove save on Zach Franko at the buzzer, his third sizzling stop of the evening on the overage Kootenay forward. Adding to his terrific volume of work, Bartosak drew the second assist on Feser’s goal.
“I looked up at the scoreclock and we had two shots 11 minutes into the third,” said Sutter. “We don’t want to play like that, and again our goalie was outstanding tonight.
“We’re going to have to be a lot better than this on the weekend. It comes down to habits and we’re a creature of habit. If you allow certain things to creep into your game through preparation, this is the type of game you get.”
Regardless, the Rebels pulled out the victory to improve their playoff chances.
“It’s two points and I’m not going to be negative on that side of it,” said Sutter. “The points are huge. Now it comes down to a big weekend and it’s still a three-team race for the final two (post-season) spots. We have to make sure we’re set here this weekend. We need to approach things differently in regards to our mindset on Saturday.”
While the Rebels close out against the powerful Oil Kings Saturday at home and Sunday in Edmonton, the Raiders face the lowly Saskatoon Blades twice — home and away — and the Wheat Kings finish with a two-game set versus Regina, again home and away.
If two teams tie for the eighth and final playoff berth, an additional game will be played. Red Deer holds the tie-breaker over both Prince Albert and Brandon, meaning the Rebels would host a potential tie-breaker.
l Forward Mason McCarty played his third game with the Rebels and his first since being recalled from the midget AAA UFA Bisons last week . . . The three stars: (1) Bartosak, (2) Descheneau and (3) Charif.