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Rebels advance with win over Hitmen

The Red Deer Rebels went into Game 5 of their best-of-seven Western Hockey League Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the Calgary Hitmen with all the momentum.

Rebels 5 Hitmen 3

The Red Deer Rebels went into Game 5 of their best-of-seven Western Hockey League Eastern Conference quarter-final series against the Calgary Hitmen with all the momentum.

After winning both games on the road the Rebels held a 3-1 edge and it appeared as if it was only a matter of time before they wrapped up the series and moved on to meet the Regina Pats.

But Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter wasn’t about to take anything for granted. He knew one slip-up and things could change in a hurry.

“Winning those two on the road and we were in control of the series, but we didn’t want to go back either,” he said. “Give either team some momentum and things could change pretty quickly. We lose this game and go back there and something happens and then you’re in Game 7. So tonight was significant.”

And the Rebels played that way as they grabbed a 2-0 first-period lead and went on to down the Hitmen 5-3 before 5,525 boisterous fans at the Centrium Saturday.

“It was one of those games where you were on the edge of your seat all night,” said Sutter.

Adam Musil, at 10:01, and Adam Helewka, with the first of his two power play goals at 17:04, gave the Rebels their 2-0 first-period lead.

“I thought our first period was very good,” said Sutter. “But they got some momentum on that short handed goal.”

Jackson Houck teamed with Travis Sanheim to score on a two-on-one while short handed at 5:22 of the middle stanza. However, Helewka one-timed a Luke Philp feed at 11:26 and it appeared as if the Rebels would get out of the second period still ahead by two.

But Pavel Karnaukhov grabbed a rebound off the back boards and was able to direct a shot in off Red Deer netminder Trevor Martin, who dove back to his left in an effort to make the save. The officials originally waved off the goal, but after a discussion, and a video review that lasted close to five minutes, the goal stood.

“We lost that second period, but credit to the Hitmen they came out hard in the second too,” said Sutter. “Then in the third we got a couple of breaks and capitalized on them for a couple of quick goals, which I think took some of the weight off our shoulders and we seemed to play better after that.”

Grayson Pawlenchuk scored a similar goal to Karnaukhov’s. Helewka missed the net but his shot deflected off the boards over to Pawlenchuk, who slammed it home before netminder Cody Porter could react.

Pawlenchuk’s marker came at 3:44 and 27 seconds later Jeff de Wit cut in on Porter, who stopped his first shot, but the rebound deflected back in off his skate.

Once again the goal was reviewed and it stood. Bruce Platt made the score 5-3 at 5:00 of the third period, but Sutter was still confident.

“I thought we were still in control somewhat and we did a good job of defending,” he said. “It’s tough in a game where you can move on. You have tendency to want to protect a lead, especially in the third period. In some ways you allow them to get the momentum.

“But I though Marty (Martin) made some key saves. In fact he was important for us the whole series … he played extremely well.”

The Rebels also got a break when it appeared as if Houck scored at 16:39 of the third period. Both teams seemed to believe the goal would count, but once again the officials went upstairs and it was waved off. Only the view from above showed the Calgary player knocking the puck in with his hand before he got a stick on it.

Martin finished with 26 saves — 12 in the third period. The Rebels were also two-for-four on the power play.

“We talked before the game that our power play percentage was just over six percent and that’s not good enough,” said Sutter. “When we get opportunities like that we have to make the most of them and tonight we got those two goals. Unfortunately we gave up a short handed goal, but overall our power play was pretty good.”

Sutter felt the team played better each game as the series went along, as did de Wit, who had a goal and a helper and was named the game’s second star back of Helewka.

“I thought this was the hardest series I’ve ever played in in terms of my hockey career,” said de Wit. “There wasn’t an easy game, but it was a lot of fun and I thought we got better each game as we went along.”

De Wit deserved his star rating and gave credit to Sutter.

“Brent talked to me about being hard on the puck and moving my feet and if I do that I think I put myself in a good spot, especially playing with Evan (Polei) and Adam (Musil). They’re two heavy players and we work well together.”

“We did play better each and every game,” added Sutter. “Our emotional level and intensity level improved. The guys are figuring it out, getting through one game and onto the next knowing our game had to get better. I thought we did a good job of that. Hopefully this will be a huge confidence boost for the kids as well.”

The Rebels finished with 30 shots on Porter.

The best-of-seven semifinals series against the Pats begins Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Centrium with Game 2 Sunday at 5 p.m. before switching to Regina for games Tuesday and Wednesday. The other semifinal series sees Moose Jaw against either Brandon or Edmonton. Brandon leads the best-of-seven quarter-final 3-2 heading to Brandon.

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter who can be reached at drode@bprda.wpengine.com. His work can also be seen at www.rdc.ab.ca/athleticsblog.

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