The Red Deer Rebels have to be miserable hosts if they plan on getting back into their WHL Eastern Conference semifinal with the Calgary Hitmen.
They at least have to make life miserable for Hitmen goalie Chris Driedger, who came up with a series of excellent saves in Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven set — both Calgary victories — but faced far more perimeter shots than attempts from in close.
“We have to key on getting all shots to the net. There’s no such thing as a bad shot,” Rebels forward Jordan DePape said Sunday, prior to a practice session at the Centrium. “What we need to work on is getting bodies in front. We’re not causing enough traffic. If we have more guys going to the net we’re going to get our chances.”
Getting to the net in Games 3 and 4 at the Centrium will be easier said than done, considering the immense size of the Hitmen defence.
“They’re obviously a physical back end. You have to pay the price going to the net but that’s playoff hockey,” said DePape.
The Rebels can also make life more difficult on the Hitmen blueline corps with a more intense forecheck. Again, easier said than done.
“We have to simplify our game,” said DePape. “If we’re not banging bodies all night long we’ve not going to wear then down, and that’s what we have to focus in on — wearing down their D-men. They’re big and we have to make life hard for them. We don’t have another option for Game 3.”
But first and foremost, the Rebels have to make the front of the Calgary cage look like rush hour.
“We need a better commitment to want to get to the net,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We do it when we get into urgent time in the third period, but we need it to be more consistent for 60 minutes.”
The Rebels have also struggled big-time on the power play during the post-season. They scored just a pair of man-advantage markers during a four-game, quarter-final sweep of the Prince Albert Raiders, and are zero-for-nine against the Hitmen.
“They do a good job of getting in lanes, but we have to put more pucks to the net,” said Sutter. “They do a good job of taking certain plays away, but you have to get pucks directed to the net and you have to get to the net. The last half of Game 2 was better, though. We scored a goal just after one of our power plays expired because we threw pucks at the net.”
DePape, who scored the goal Sutter referred to, said the Rebels have enough firepower and wherewithal to take advantage of Calgary penalties.
“The main thing so far (in this series) is we have faced a bit of adversity. We’ve learned from that and we just have to calm down and play the game and run the power play they way we know we can,” he said.
DePape’s goal in Friday’s second game of the current series was his first of the playoffs. The Rebels are hoping it was the first of more to come.
“I hope so,” said DePape. “I don’t think I’ve been playing bad hockey these playoffs. I didn’t have a great first game against Calgary but I thought I played fine against Prince Albert, I wasn’t a liability out there. I created chances, they just weren’t going in for me.”
DePape, who was plucked off the free agent wire at the WHL trade deadline in January and didn’t play his first game until mid-March due to undergoing shoulder surgery in November, insisted the Rebels are still a confident bunch despite being down 2-0 in the series.
“Our goal is take it one game at a time. In our heads, we’re going out there to win tomorrow night and we’ll worry about the next game the next night,” he said.
l Rebels forward Matt Bellerive has been suspended indefinitely for a kneeing major and game misconduct he was assessed in Friday’s 2-1 Game 2 loss at Calgary. The Rebels will learn the length of the suspension today . . . Forward Adam Musil, the team’s first-round pick in last year’s bantam draft, will be inserted into the Red Deer lineup tonight, as will forward Scott Feser, who will likely replace Cory Millette.