Hitmen 3 Rebels 2
The Red Deer Rebels didn’t execute their game plan Tuesday and their already slim WHL playoff hopes took another hit.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” said Rebels GM/head coach Jesse Wallin following a 3-2 victory by the Calgary Hitmen before a recorded gathering of 3,981 at the Centrium.
“We felt we really had to be physical against these guys. They have some skilled forwards and they play with speed and a lot of confidence.
“They’ve scored a lot of goals in the second half of the season and we just gave them a little bit too much respect and a lot of free space in our zone.”
The Hitmen led 1-0 after one period on Jimmy Bubnick’s 31st goal of the season that was the result of a defensive turnover.
Tyson Ness pulled the Rebels even with his 18th of the season early in the second period when Chad Robinson’s no-look backhand from the corner glanced off his teammate and past Hitmen goaltender Brandon Glover.
The goal stood up for eight minutes before Brady Brassart gave the visitors a permanent lead, scoring directly off a faceoff in the Rebels end.
Red Deer was the better team in the third period, but Glover stood tall and Chase Clayton notched the eventual winner with just over two minutes remaining, shelving his own rebound over goaltender Deven Dubyk.
“We didn’t finish enough checks and at the end of the night we allowed them to score too easily,” said Wallin. “Games are won and lost at this time of the year at the net front at both ends of the rink.
“We had some opportunities we didn’t capitalize on and we gave them three easy goals. We didn’t pick up the man on the second goal and the first and third goals came off turnovers. We lost some battles tonight and that was the difference in the game.”
The Rebels outshot their guests 16-14 in the final frame but connected just once — on a bullet to the low corner by Mathew Dumba with five seconds remaining.
Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson was impressed with the work ethic of the Rebels, who welcomed forward Cory Millette back to their lineup but were still minus seven regulars.
“I’m not surprised tonight’s game was a battle,” said Williamson. “I’ve seen the job Jesse has done with his team. He’d done a great job with the injuries they’ve had and if it wasn’t for our goaltender and the saves he made tonight it might have been a different outcome.”
As good as Glover — who made 33 saves — was for Calgary, Dubyk was better at the other end, turning aside 40 shots. Included were terrific pad stops on Greg Chase and Trevor Cheek.
While the Hitmen notched their 40th victory of the season and are just two points out of third place in the Eastern Conference, Williamson hasn’t been enamoured with their play of late.
“I don’t think we’re at the point we were at a month ago, but we’re finding ways to win a lot of games,” he asid. “We still have some fine-tuning to do.”
The Rebels dropped to 30-30-1-5 and remain eight points behind eight-place Brandon with just six regular-season games remaining, including Friday’s home-ice date with the Edmonton Oil Kings.