The Red Deer Rebels never led Saturday night and despite a valiant effort weren’t able to close out the Lethbridge Hurricanes in their first round WHL playoff series.
Lethbridge scored early in the third period to pull away from Red Deer and earned a crucial 5-3 victory at home in game five.
“We weren’t as sharp as we need to be. We had too many turnovers. They certainly played with – especially in the first period a lot of energy. A lot of urgency in their game,” Rebels GM/ head coach Brent Sutter said.
“I didn’t think we had a great first period but we got playing better in the second but every time we got a goal, our next shift we didn’t continue to generate the momentum. Bottom line we just didn’t get it done. We weren’t good enough to close the series out.”
It was a back and fourth battle all night long between the Central Division rivals, including four leads for the Hurricanes.
Rebel killer Giorgio Estephan returned to the lineup for Lethbridge in game five and made a big difference with a goal and two assists in the win.
With such a small gap separating the two teams, Red Deer missing leading goal-scorer Lane Zablocki potentially gave Lethbridge the edge in a must win game five. The 18-year-old was suspended for one game following a boarding penalty in game four Thursday.
“Sure you miss a player like that,” Sutter said. “He’s got five goals in this series. We’ll have him back tomorrow. That doesn’t take away from the fact that some other guys need to step up and didn’t play very good tonight. I’m talking about our third and fourth line guys.”
After Alec Baer opened the scoring in the first, Michael Spacek tied the game at one for the Rebels in the second. The Winnipeg Jets draft pick found a loose puck after a scramble in front of Stuart Skinner and buried his third goal of the playoffs.
Zane Franklin reestablished the Hurricanes lead at 7:07 of the second, before Brandon Hagel tipped home his fifth of the post-season on the power play.
The game was tied for only 11 seconds after Matt Alfaro rocketed a wrist shot past Rebels goalie Riley Lamb.
Hagel brought the Rebels even again, when he blasted his second of the night short side on Stuart Skinner.
With six goals in the playoffs, the Buffalo Sabres draft pick leads all WHL players.
The Hurricanes got their fourth lead of the game early in the third when a loose puck squirted out to the slot and Zak Zborosky wristed it behind Lamb.
Red Deer’s power play continued to be white hot with two more goals on Saturday on only four chances.
The Rebels also limited the Hurricanes to just three power plays and didn’t allow a goal.
It’ll be another quick turn around as the two teams will be back in Red Deer Sunday night with puck drop set for 5 p.m. at the Centrium.
Sutter said the game plan is real simple for game six.
“Be ready to play,” Sutter said. “We have to have the same urgency they have. It’s got to be a do-or-die situation for us too.”