The Red Deer Rebels were right there after two periods, a mere 20 minutes from snapping a four-game Western Hockey League losing streak.
But their one-goal lead turned into a two-goal deficit before the halfway mark of the final frame and the Rebels fell 4-2 to the Prince Albert Raiders in front of 2,265 fans at the Art Hauser Centre.
The Raiders, blessed with a two-man advantage for two full minutes, pulled even 1:04 into the third period on a goal by Craig Leverton. Jayden Hart connected at 5:55 and Matteo Gennaro, with his first of the season, scored the eventual winner just under three minutes later.
The turning point was the Raiders’ two-man advantage, which came about when Kayle Doetzel and Rebels captain Conner Bleackley were both penalized in the final minute of the second period; Doetzel for interference — which Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said was the appropriate call — and Bleackley for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing the infraction.
“It was a bad penalty by him (Bleackley),” said Sutter.
“That’s a penalty he can’t take, that no one can take at any point. It’s unacceptable.”
Haydn Fleury brought the Rebels within one with his first goal of the season — a power-play tally — at 14:09, but the Raiders put it away when Reid Gardiner scored with just under two minutes remaining.
The outcome left the Rebels winless on their brief trip — which opened Friday with a 3-2 loss at Saskatoon — and with just a single point in their last five outings.
The Raiders held a 21-20 advantage in shots through 40 minutes, then outshot their guests 15-6 in the third period. Sutter took solace in the fact that his club was focused and playing the systems almost to a tee for the first two periods.
“I was disappointed with the way we played the first night, but last night we actually played very well for the first half of the game,” said Sutter. “It’s just the little things that are costing us . . . details in the game. The disappointing part of it from the coaches’ standpoint is that these are things we work on daily and yet breakdowns are costing us goals.
“When you’re in tight games you just can’t make those kinds of mistakes. There’s a lot of parity in this league. Unless one team really struggles, there aren’t many games that are going to be decided by three or four goals . . . most are going to be one or two goals, and right now we’re on the other side of it.
“But we did a lot of good things last night. We played extremely well for two periods and that game was right there for us.”
Prince Albert netminder Nick McBride made 24 saves and Rylan Toth turned aside 32 shots for the Rebels.
“Tother was good this weekend, we were happy with him,” said Sutter.
The Rebels are idle until Friday, when they host the Prince George Cougars. The Moose Jaw Warriors visit the Centrium 24 hours later.