LETHBRIDGE- The Red Deer Rebels season is over.
One win away from closing out their first round WHL playoff series with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Red Deer lost three straight games including a 6-2 contest in Game 7.
It was the first time in franchise history Lethbridge had come back from a 3-1 series deficit.
The Hurricanes completed the comeback with a dominant win in the series finale between the central division rivals and won their first playoff series since 2009.
“It’s pretty exciting. Obviously we’re going to enjoy this,” said Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio.
“Very proud of the guys. They worked real hard. We were in a tough spot. We had a decision to make. Work hard and get back into this thing. Real proud of how the guys stuck together and found a way.”
It came on the strength of a re-awakened power play that scored twice in the opening 10 minutes and four times on the night.
“We lost that special teams battle early on in the series and it was really starting to hurt us,”Kisio said.
“We had a lot of power play opportunities that we didn’t score on. We made some adjustments, I thought the guys did a great job getting a couple of goals early to get us going.”
Lethbridge scored two first period goals a minute apart on consecutive power plays including just one goal twenty seconds into a two-man advantage to open the scoring.
“It started right with the penalties in the first period. We get down one man and then all of a sudden we take a second one and their power play takes over,” Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt said.
“We were chasing the game from then on. I think that was the start of it. Our discipline wasn’t good enough tonight against a very good team who has a very good power play.”
Brennan Menell got the first for Lethbridge with a shot from the point and then quickly Giorgio Estephan notched his second of the playoffs and seventh point in four games.
The Rebels forecheck was strong most of the game and captain Adam Musil forced a turnover late in the first that landed on Lane Zablocki’s stick and the 18-year-old made no mistake with his sixth of the playoffs.
Briefly, with 51 seconds left in the opening frame there was hope for Red Deer after the Zablocki goal, but 22 seconds later Red Deer product Ryan Vandervlis made it 3-1 Hurricanes.
“We had to address that after we score a goal, we’re going to have to have a good shift afterwards. Don’t want to give up a goal like we have,” Truitt said.
“It seemed like almost every night in this series once we got up, or we were close, we let them right back in again.”
Jordy Bellerive tipped home a shorthanded marker after the Rebels were pressing on the power play midway through the second.
When the Rebels did push back down 4-1 in the second, Hurricanes goalie Stuart Skinner was equal to the task swallowing up rebound after rebound. Skinner made 19 saves in the middle frame.
“You have to give him credit, he played a good game. We were throwing pucks as much as we could there to create a bit of chaos. He came up big a number of times and that’s what you need at this time of the season,” Truitt said.
Brandon Hagel blasted a wrist shot from the top of the circle that eluded Skinner early in the third to cut the deficit to 4-2.
The Hurricanes added two power play goals midway through the third.
The capacity crowd in the ENMAX Centre was raucous all night and the Rebels were never able to eliminate the home fans from the equation.
“It’s the loudest I’ve heard it. It was absolutely rocking. Talking to some of the guys walking out before the game, it was giving them chills. We could hear how loud it was. As always these fans are crazy,” Kisio said.
Vandervlis scored his second of the night, another power play goal to essentially ice the Rebels chances at a comeback. He played a key role in eliminating his hometown team with a four-point game including two goals.
“It’s cool, playing at the Centrium [in Red Deer] it was nice to get that goal in game six. Never scored in the hometown so that was pretty cool,” he said.
Kisio also said the play of his veteran forward was a difference maker in the series.
“He was an absolute stud tonight. He stepped up and played some big minutes for us. You need those guys in the playoffs,” he said.
The Rebels were also without the services of alternate captain Evan Polei in Tuesday’s game seven, after he was assessed a suspension for an elbow in Game 6.
The Hurricanes will face the Medicine Hat Tigers in the second round of the WHL playoffs starting on Friday night.