In a must-win game, the Red Deer Rebels didn’t have the push needed to extend the series.
Going 0-for-4 on the power play and giving up a short handed goal can haunt a team.
Giving up a hat trick and four unanswered goals in the second and third periods ended the Rebels playoff run as they fell 5-2 to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“I think our team was very fragile in this series,” said Brent Sutter, Rebels GM/head coach. “I don’t think we responded to some adversity in the series very well. I thought some of our top players played well and other top players struggled.”
The Rebels held leads, 1-0 to start the game and 2-1 going into the first period intermission, but couldn’t bottle up the Wheat Kings attack.
“Again we had a 2-1 lead and we didn’t stay with our game,” said Sutter. “We made some risky plays and gave up 2-on-1s and they capitalized on it, we gave up a shorthanded goal and they capitalized on it. We just weren’t sharp.
“We never had 60 to 70 per cent of our team play to the level they need to play at in this series, like they did against Regina and it hurt us. Some of our guys really struggled in the series.”
The loss ends the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Final in just five games. The Wheat Kings, conference champions for the second consecutive year, will now face the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL final. Seattle swept the Kelowna Rockets to earn their spot in the final.
The Rebels will have about 20 days off before the Memorial Cup takes over the Centrium. Sutter said the team will develop a program to keep the players game-ready for the extended break.
“Next week is going to have to be a tough week because the other teams are going to be playing, battling and competing hard and we can’t just be running practices,” said Sutter.
Nolan Patrick had a hand in all five Wheat Kings goals, with three goals and two assists. His first goal came off of a turnover by the Rebels as they tried to clear their zone. His second came on a pass by Hawryluk, who used every inch of his stick and arm to pass the puck to him. His third goal came on a 2-on-1 rush and ended up as the game winner.
Not to be outdone by his teammate Patrick, Wheat Kings’ goalie Jordan Papirny made 29 saves including several key saves. The biggest save was on a Luke Philp breakaway. With the Wheat Kings leading 3-2, Philp had the puck alone at the Wheaties blueline but was stopped cold by Papirny.
“It’s tough to win when you’re playing a good team and you go along further and further in the playoffs, the teams get better and your game has to rise,” said Sutter. “We had some guys really struggle with that.”
Rebels’ goal scoring came from Jake DeBrusk and Evan Polei. Both goals came in the first period.
The Rebels’ next game is scheduled for May 20 against the Ontario Hockey League champion at the Centrium. The London Knights and Niagara Ice Dogs start the OHL Final series on May 5. That game will kick off the Memoral Cup.
Brandon starts their series against Seattle on May 6 at home.
Notes: The Wheat Kings were 0-for-7 on the power play in the last two games of the series … The Wheat Kings out shot the Rebels 31-26 … Attendance at Westman Place was 5,605.