MEDICINE HAT – How many overtime games are decided by an unusual goal?
Most, it seems, and Trevor Cox’s extra-time winner Sunday at the old Arena was no exception.
The diminutive forward worked out of the corner and wired a sharp-angle shot that deflected in off the pad of Red Deer Rebels netminder Rylan Toth at 10:05 of overtime to give the Medicine Hat Tigers a 1-0 win and a 2-0 lead in a WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final.
The Tigers prevailed 2-1 in the opening game of the series Saturday night. The third and fourth games of the best-of-seven set will be played Wednesday and Thursday at the Enmax Centrium.
The goal spoiled a splendid performance by Toth, who made 36 saves, including nine in overtime, and came just seconds after the game nearly ended in Red Deer’s favour as a Tigers player dug a loose puck out of the Medicine Hat crease.
“Stants (Tigers defenceman Ty Stanton) head-manned the puck after a pretty crazy scramble in front of our net,” said Cox. “I saw them kind of changing so I dropped it back to (Cole) Sanford.
“He gave it back to me and I just threw it at the net and it found its way in. After that I just kind of blacked out.”
The Tigers carried the play in overtime, outshooting their guests 10-6 in the process. Toth kept the game in doubt by robbing Chad Butcher point blank and Sanford rang a shot off the crossbar.
Still, the game was there for the taking for the Rebels, but the Tigers got the break to end the lengthy, tight-checking contest.
“That’s a tough goal against (Toth),” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “But that being said, both goalies were good tonight.
“They got the break, but again, it’s tough to win if you don’t score any goals, either. We scored one goal in two games.”
Despite Sutter’s line juggling, the Rebels couldn’t mount sustained attacks and Tigers netminder Marek Langhamer shut the door when the visitors did threaten.
His first-period glove save on Wyatt Johnson from the edge of the crease was pure thievery. Langhamer turned aside 27 shots to post the shutout and was named first star of the game, with Toth and Cox selected as the second and third stars.
“Some of our offensive guys have got to be better for us,” said Sutter. “We need more from Bleacks (Conner Bleackley), more from Sheener (Riley Sheen) and more from (Connor) Gay.
“Guys who we expect to score goals for us, we need more from even though they have to play the right way. They have to do more in the offensive zone for us.”
The Rebels couldn’t took advantage of three power plays, while the Tigers were zero-for-five with a man advantage and enjoyed a four-minute power play when Bleackley was assessed a double minor for spearing in the third period.
The Rebels killed it off in impressive fashion, holding the Tigers to two shots, and then killed a later hooking infraction to defenceman Kayle Doetzel.
“Defensively, we’ve been good,” said Sutter. “Both games have been head-to-head, with shots on goal very similar.
“You never read anything into shots on goal in this building. It’s not often the visiting team is going to have more shots than the home team, that’s the way it works here.
“But we’re right there. We just have to focus in on Game 3 now. We’re going back to our building and we need to have that emotion of our building working for us.”
Both games were intense, heated affairs, with the Rebels having the advantage in the physical department.
“Red Deer is a really defensive club and they play us hard every game,” said Cox. “We knew that coming into this series and we just have to stay patient.
“If we play like we did in overtime tonight the rest of the series, I’m confident we can wrap this thing up.”
Rebels forward Presten Kopeck is confident his club will draw even at home.
“Bounces go whatever way and tonight wasn’t our night,” he said.
“We have to regroup. We have two games at home to get right back on track.”
As long as the Rebels can find their scoring touch, that is.
“That’s the biggest thing,” said Kopeck. “Their goalie is standing on his head right now and we have to find a way to get past him. As soon as it happens I think the floodgates will open.”
Kopeck praised Toth and felt bad for his teammate.
“He’s the one who kept us in the game. He was making good stops all game,” said Kopeck.
“It was an unfortunate bounce at the end but I’m not going to blame that on Tother whatsoever.
“We have to figure out a way to score and we have to help him out back there too.”
• The Tigers scored once in each of the first two periods Saturday, then survived a strong Rebels push in the final frame to hang on for the victory.
Kyle Beckcr connected in the opening period and Sanford scored a power-play marker in the second that was the eventual winner.
Grayson Pawlenchuk pulled Red Deer to within one at 11:19 of the third period but the visitors couldn’t find the equalizer despite holding a 16-7 advantage in shots over the final 20 minutes.
“Our second period hurt us,” said Sutter. “We got on our heels and they dictated the play in the second.
“But we were better in the third and we had a good first period.”
Both Toth and Langhamer finished with 31 saves.