Go figure, another one-goal game.
After dropping a pair of low-scoring, one-goal decisions on the road, the Red Deer Rebels jumped right back into their WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final versus the Medicine Hat Tigers Wednesday with a 2-1 victory before 5,371 fans at the Enmax Centrium.
Game 4 goes tonight at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.
“It was just another game that was hard-fought and tight-checking and both goalies obviously played well again,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “That’s just the way the series has been. You look at the goals-for and goals-against . . . it’s pretty scary.”
The Rebels grabbed their first lead of the series in the first period when Scott Feser poked a rebound of a point shot by Kayle Doetzel past Tigers netminder Marek Langhamer.
The second period was scoreless, despite the Tigers being handed a two-man advantage for 23 seconds late in the frame due to penalties to Rebels defencemen Nelson Nogier and Colton Bobyk.
“That was huge,” Sutter said in reference to his club’s penalty kill, which was four-for-four on the evening. “We took some unnecessary penalties that put us behind the eight-ball a bit, but our penalty killers did a great job.
“We have to be better than that. We can’t take those types of penalties and we have to make sure that we bear down.”
The Rebels got a little breathing room when Wyatt Johnson buried a two-on-zero pass from Grayson Pawlenchuk at 8:34 of the third period following a forced turnover at the Tigers blueline.
The visitors weren’t dead, though, as Cole Sanford, who sniped 50 goals during the regular season, notched his second of the playoffs just over three minutes later, beating Red Deer goaltender Rylan Toth from the low slot. The Tigers pulled Langhamer in favour of an extra attacker with slightly more a minute remaining, but couldn’t mount a sustained attack.
“We came out hard tonight, obviously it was a must-win for us and we got the job done,” said Johnson. “I thought our second period wasn’t quite what we wanted, but all in all we played a pretty solid game.”
Both goalies were certainly solid, as Toth turned aside 34 shots and Langhamer finished with 29 saves. Toth came up with a big stop on Matt Bradley during a second-period three-on-one break and got in front of an in-close deflection in the final frame, while Langhamer was also sharp, his toe save on Conner Bleackley in the middle stanza denying the Rebels captain a goal.
In short, the series, at least to this point, has been intense playoff hockey at its finest.
“That’s what it is. We knew going into the series that we’re playing a very good team, yet we believe we’re a good team too,” said Sutter. “If we play the game the right way and do certain things we give ourselves a chance.
“We can play with them, but the key is making sure we have everyone doing things the right way. Obviously they have some offensive guys you have to be careful with, but you have to play smart and that’s where we did a lot of good things tonight. We just have to make sure we don’t put them in situations where the offensive guys can capitalize.”
Added Johnson: “Obviously the games have been really tight-checking. Both teams are very evenly-matched and all the games have been low scoring. It was really exciting to come back home and play in front of our fans and they were very helpful tonight.”
Tigers captain and overage defenceman Tyler Lewington pretty much echoed Johnson’s series sentiments.
“It’s been a real defensive battle and obviously both goalies have played unreal,” he said. “Defensively, neither team is giving up much, but when we do get those opportunities in front of the net we have to do a better job of bearing down.
“At the other end of it, we have to make sure we’re outworking them. We just have to be better.”
Johnson said the Rebels plan of attack for tonight’s contest won’t change one iota.
“We just have to stick to our game plan,” he said. “We want to get another W, obviously. It’s another must-win game for us and we can go back to Medicine Hat 2-2.”
The fifth game of the series will be played Saturday in Medicine Hat, while a sixth, if necessary, will go Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Centrium. The Tigers will host a seventh game, if needed, Tuesday.
• The Rebels scratched defenceman Austin Strand and forwards Reese Johnson and Austin Adamson, while forward Adam Musil remains out with an injury. The Tigers’ scratches were forwards Mark Rassell, Zach Fischer and Mason Shaw and rearguard David Quenneville . . . Both netminders are sporting eye-catching numbers through three games, with Langhamer possessing a 0.95 save percentage and .967 save percentages and Toth at 1.27 and .962.