The almighty hockey god was not a Rebel Tuesday night at the Centrium.
The Red Deer Rebels rallied from a poor first period to carry the play through the next 40 minutes, but in the end dropped a 3-2 WHL overtime decision to the Calgary Hitmen.
Hitmen captain Cody Sylvester, all by his lonesome, cashed a rebound to give the visitors a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
Game 5 goes Thursday at the Saddledome in Calgary.
“It’s a loss and obviously it puts us down two games in the series,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose squad trailed 2-0 after one period then drew even while dominating the second.
“Our battle level and compete level for the second and third periods were very good, but our first period was something that’s inexcusable. We just weren’t good at all,” Sutter continued.
“Then you have to rattle some chains and then they play. You don’t like seeing that at this time of the year, where you have to push guys to do it the right way”
The visitors connected on the power play six minutes into the game when Jake Virtanen squeezed a puck past Rebels goaltender Patrik Bartosak while stationed at the post.
Brooks Macek cashed a rebound seven minutes later and it was 2-0.
The Rebels, though, got rolling in the second stanza after Dominik Volek beat Calgary goalie Chris Driedger at 2:32 during a Red Deer power play. With Hitmen forward Zane Jones off for boarding, Volek moved into the faceoff circle and picked the far top corner.
Less than three minutes later, Conner Bleackley tipped home a power-play point shot by Haydn Fleury and the Rebels ruled the remainder of the period, outshooting their guests 18-4 through the stanza.
“In the second and third the kids did a lot of good things and in overtime we had a couple of opportunities,” said Sutter.
Rhyse Dieno had the best chanee, but by the time he got his relay away from 15 feet out, Driedger was in position to get his pad on the shot.
“Dieno had an opportunity right in the slot. He’s a goal scorer. He has to bury that for us,” said Sutter. “Then we make a mistake by giving up an odd-man rush and they capitalize. Maybe, in some way, the hockey gods got even with us for having a first period like we had tonight.
“That’s a period you see in exhibition hockey and shouldn’t see at this time of the year.”
In the end, Sylvester, the Hitmen captain, sealed the deal and put his squad in position to conclude the series at home Thursday.
“We call him ‘captain clutch’ in the dressing room and he definitely lived up to his name tonight,” said Driedger, who finished with 36 saves, eight more than Bartosak.
The Rebels were indeed the better club for more than half the game — as was the case the night before in a 2-1 overtime win — but as captain Turner Elson noted . . .
“In playoffs you have to play a 60-minute game. We were gawd-awful in the first period, that was probably the worst period we’ve played in a long time and we can’t have that happen in the playoffs. That’s our fault and that’s something we have to live with right now.”
Elson insisted he and his teammates will need a better start Thursday.
“We need everybody energized, everybody ready,” he said. “This is do or die. We want to keep winning, we want to keep playing. It’s going to be tough but we have to find a way to do it.”
Sutter will do his best to make sure his charges are ready to roll in Game 5.
“This series is far from over. We’re going into their rink with the mindset that we have to win one game and try to get it back here Saturday (for a sixth game),” said the Rebels boss.
“We’ve lost three games and won one and every game has been tight. We have to be prepared to play (Thursday) and try to bring the series back here.”
• The Hitmen got away with a blatant trip with less than two minutes left in regulation time, a missed call that didn’t please Sutter and enraged the vast majority of the 5,633 fans in attendance . . . The Edmonton Oil Kings are up 3-0 in the other semifinal after hammering the host Medicine Hat Tigers 9-2 Tuesday. . . Advocate’s three stars: (1) Driedger . . . Turned aside 16 shots in the second period to keep the score deadlocked at two; (2) Bleackley . . . Red Deer rookie scored once and continued to show why he’ll be a physical force over the next few seasons; (3) Sylvester . . . Potted the winner.