The Red Deer Rebels played with a distinct sense of urgency Friday with their Western Hockey League playoff hopes on the line.
Unfortunately, their dogged desperation — especially over the final 40 minutes — earned them just a single point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers in front of 5,395 fans at the Enmax Centrium.
The visitors got a tying goal from Curtis Valk at 4:54 of the third period with Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury serving a delay of game penalty for lifting the puck over the glass in the Red Deer zone, then, following a scoreless overtime frame, potted a pair of unanswered shootout markers — courtesy of Miles Koules and Cole Sanford — to pull out the win.
While the Rebels came up short, they gained a single point in their race with the Prince Albert Raiders for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and perhaps deserving of the extra point despite being outshot 41-27.
“After the first period we really got going. Our fundamentals and our details in the first weren’t great. We turned pucks over and weren’t moving our feet,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose team trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes, then carried the play through the second frame.
“We got playing in the second and over the last 40 minutes we were a good hockey team,” added Sutter. “Then we take a penalty for shooting the puck over the glass and get scored on. It was a tough break, but other than that we played hard and competed.”
Koules chipped a rebound past Rebels netminder Patrik Bartosak late in the first period, but the home side battled back in the second stanza with Wyatt Johnson connecting at 7:19 and Scott Feser scoring at 18:42.
Johnson broke out of a scrum in the low slot and slipped the puck through the pads of Tigers netminder Marek Langhamer, and Feser tipped in a feed from Adam Musil to complete a nifty three-way passing play that also involved Johnson.
“Johny’s goal was huge. It gave us some momentum and got us going again,” said Sutter. “But it’s a situation where we need to have that momentum earlier in the game.”
The Johnson-Musil-Feser line was Red Deer’s best forward unit all night, accounting for both goals.
“After the first period they were like the rest of the group,” said Sutter. “They got pucks in deep and forechecked, cycled and made good plays. They got to the net and made things happen.”
Feser also had a breakaway in overtime but was thwarted by Langhamer.
‘That was a very big save,” said Tigers GM/head coach Shaun Clouston. “The one that went underneath him (Johnson’s goal) he (Langhamer) probably would have wanted back but the save in OT was huge. Overall, he was solid.
“This was a game that could have gone either way. Both teams are still playing for a lot. Red Deer is playing for a playoff spot and we’re trying to hold our position (fourth in the Eastern Conference). This was a real battle, neither team gave up much.”
The single point gave the Rebels a two-point lead over Prince Albert, which has a game in hand.
“Every point is huge,” said Sutter, whose team has a tough schedule over the remaining seven regular-season games.
“It’s going to come down to urgency,” said the Rebels boss. “We have Medicine Hat two more times (both on the road), we have Kootenay twice (home and away), Edmonton twice (home and away to close out the season) and Swift Current once (next Friday at the Centrium).
“That’s seven games against very tough opponents. We can’t leave anything for chance. Our details have to be good in every game and we have to play with urgency and desperation.”