Rebels 5 Hitmen 4 (SO)
CALGARY — The Red Deer Rebels needed a little extra time to complete their ‘drive for five’ Wednesday night at the Saddledome.
Down 4-2 to the Calgary Hitmen midway through the third period, the visitors got goals from Brooks Maxwell, on the power play, and Conner Bleackley — with his second of the evening — then prevailed 5-4 in a shootout before 5,915 fans.
“We stuck with it in the third, we stayed with our game,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We created some scoring opportunities and capitalized on them. You never know what’s going to happen in a shootout, but we prevailed and it was a big win.”
With their fifth consecutive WHL victory, the second-place Rebels pulled four points clear of the third-place Hitmen in the Central Division and are tied with Regina for third place in the Eastern Conference.
The Rebels were up 2-1 after one period on goals from Adam Musil and Bleackley, but were assessed five minor penalties in the second stanza and gave up a pair of unanswered power-play tallies off the sticks of Connor Rankin and Jake Bean.
Rankin, who also scored in the first period, connected on a five-on-three late in the second and Bean’s goal came on the ensuing five-on-four.
“The second period hurt us,” said Sutter. “We can’t play undisciplined hockey. We have to be smarter than that.”
The contest took on a even more sombre tone for the visitors when Hitmen forward Elliott Peterson beat Red Deer netminder Rylan Toth just 3:04 into the third period. But the Rebels battled back with goals at 10:34 and 18:51 to force a scoreless overtime frame and then won the skills competition.
Hitmen head coach Mark French watched his club blow a two-goal lead for the second straight game and didn’t like the way his defence allowed Bleackley to get into striking range prior to scoring his late tying goal.
“It was a big goal,” French told the Calgary Sun. “It was a nice play to get open but we can’t be giving up the soft spot through the middle like we did and allow Conner Bleackley’s talents to go unchecked at the top of the circles.”
Sutter, meanwhile, was more than satisfied with the outcome.
“Outside of that second period when we got into penalty trouble, we actually played pretty well tonight,” said the Rebels boss, whose squad downed the Lethbridge Hurricanes 5-3 in the first half of the mini road trip 24 hours earlier. “We did a lot of good things over the two nights.”
The Rebels limited their hosts to 24 shots over 65 minutes, while directing 34 at Hitmen netminder Brendan Burke. Red Deer gave up just 25 shots the night before in Lethbridge.
“We’re certainly getting better in that area,” said Sutter. “We have a good team and we have to understand that we’re a good team because we do things a certain way.
“There might be some teams that have more skill or are a bit bigger, but we have to pay attention to our details and do things the right way.”
• The Rebels scored on three of four attempts in the shootout, with Connor Gay, Riley Sheen and Maxwell, with the eventual winner, finding the back of the net. Toth, meanwhile, was beaten by Calgary’s first two shooters — Radel Fazleev and Adam Tambellini — before denying Rankin and Terrell Draude . . . Red Deer hosts the Victoria Royals and the Regina Pats, who were surprise 6-1 winners at Medicine Hat Wednesday, on Friday and Saturday.