PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. — The Red Deer Rebels knew they’d have to be survivors in the first period of Tuesday’s WHL playoff game at the Art Hauser Centre.
The Rebels played the role to a tee and now the Prince Albert Raiders need a victory tonight in order to survive in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final.
The Rebels were outshot 15-8 in the opening 20 minutes, but went into the first intermission locked in a scoreless tie. From there, Brooks Maxwell and Turner Elson scored second-period goals and the visitors prevailed 3-1 before 2,724 fans to grab a 3-0 lead in the series.
Game 4 goes tonight at the Art Hauser Centre.
“They came out strong in the first period and had a lot of shots, a lot of hits,” said Elson, who capped the win with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
“We had to weather that storm and then had a good second and third periods. We limited their shots and it was just a good, overall effort by everybody.”
While the Raiders carried the play early, both goaltenders had to be sharp.
Red Deer’s Patrik Bartosak showed quick reflexes to stop a deflection from three feet out and then made a glove save on Mark McNeill late in the frame. At the other end, Luke Siemens came up with a pad stop on Elson to keep the game scoreless.
Brooks Maxwell got the Rebels on the board 4:10 into the middle frame, taking a feed from Mathew Dumba up the boards, breaking down the right side and beating Siemens to the glove side while being harassed by a defender.
Just over three minutes later, with Raiders defenceman Harrison Ruopp serving a high sticking minor, Elson, from a goalmouth scramble, batted the puck out of the air and past Siemens.
“We knew they (Raiders) were going to come out geared up and charged up, being at home and being down in the series,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “Yet we weathered the storm, opened the scoring and then got a huge power play goal.”
The Rebels were hard on the puck all night, and that, for all intents and purposes, was the difference in the game.
“That’s the way we have to play on the road, especially against a team like this that can strike at any time,” said Rebels defenceman Mathew Dumba, who assisted on the first two goals and was selected as third star of the game.
“They were in their own barn tonight and had their fans behind them. It was rowdy in here to start the game and we just had to make sure we were making smart plays and being strong on the puck.”
“We’re playing junkyard hockey, we’re not losing many battles and we’re making sure we do the simple things that are necessary to have success in the playoffs,” said the Rebels’ captain.
The Raiders made it interesting when Trochu product Mike Winther scored with just over three minutes remaining, taking a cross-ice pass from Leon Draisaitl and sliding the puck under Bartosak.
The home side, however, never really threatened again and with Siemens on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, Rhyse Dieno battled two Raiders for the puck in the offensive zone and got it out to Elson, who sealed the deal at 19:16.
“They got the late goal, but we never really gave them much after that,” said Sutter, whose squad limited the hosts to 15 shots over the final 40 minutes and fired a total of 26 at Siemens.
“We did a good job of shutting them down. We just had a lot of very solid players here tonight. But that being said, it still takes four wins to win a series and our focal point now has to be Game 4 and making sure that we play the game the right way and are disciplined in how we need to play in different areas.”
“We know they’re not going to lay down and let us take this series,” added Elson. “They’re going to battle hard to the last second and we have to make sure that we play the same way.
“We have to make sure we chip pucks, get on the body, get a lot of shots to the net and get traffic there, the same way we’ve won these first three games.”
The Rebels ‘work ethic was never missing Tuesday, and Bartosak was the safety valve, as usual. The Eastern Conference goaltender of the year robbed Jonas Knutsen on a second-period breakaway with the Rebels up 1-0 and his teammates gave up very little the rest of the way.
“It was a real good solid game on our part,” said Sutter. “When you come on the road and play like this in a tough building, you know you’re at least giving yourself a chance.”
• The Rebels scratches were defencemen Kevin Pochuk and Riley Boomgaarden and forwards Scott Feser and Hunter Smith . . . The first and second stars were Raiders defenceman Josh Morrissey and Dieno . . . If the Raiders win tonight, a fifth game will be played Friday at the Centrium.