Rebels 5 Oil Kings 1
EDMONTON — The Red Deer Rebels came bearing brooms, ready and willing to clean up an oil spill.
The Rebels bid adieu to the Edmonton Oil Kings before 5,938 fans Thursday at Rexall Place, defeating their out-classed hosts 5-1 to complete a sweep of the best-of-seven Western Hockey League Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Brett Ferguson scored twice for the visitors, who fired three unanswered second-period goals to all but drain the life out of the Oil Kings.
Edmonton’s lone tally, a knuckleball by Curtis Lazar that slipped past screened netminder Darcy Kuemper, came with just under six minutes remaining in the third period.
The Oil Kings pressed for another marker, but instead gave up an empty-net goal to Ferguson in the final minute. The veteran forward was awarded the tally when he was tripped from behind while chasing the puck and facing a vacated Edmonton goal.
Kuemper had to be sharp at times and finished with 21 saves, but the bottom line is the Rebels limited their opponents’ scoring chances for most of the series.
“They’re a fast team and very skilled. Our game plan was to match their speed and also slow them down,” said Ferguson. “We wanted to eliminate their cycle, they’re really good when they get the puck down low. We were able to do that.”
Following a scoreless opening frame in which Red Deer held an 11-8 edge in shots and the Oil Kings twice had pucks behind Kuemper but not over the line, Mathew Dumba connected 5:52 into the second period, beating goaltender Laurent Brossoit to the short side with a low point blast through a crowd.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doubled Red Deer’s lead four minutes later as a bouncing puck glanced off his leg and past Brossoit as he was skating through the crease.
That goal, in particular, was a killer.
“We couldn’t grab a bounce. We had a couple of opportunities during goalmouth scrambles in the first period,” said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal.
“They (Rebels) seemed to get all the bounces in the series. But at the end of the day our group of kids worked hard all year and they went out very professionally tonight. They battled right to the end, right to the final buzzer.”
Andrej Kudrna upped the count to 3-0 with a power-play goal at 11:40 of the middle stanza and Ferguson closed out the second-period onslaught in the last minute, stepping around a fallen Brossoit and whipping a shot upstairs.
Brossoit made 23 saves, including a rather large handful of high-quality stops. Kuemper also came up big on at least four occasions.
In the end, the Rebels held an edge between the pipes in all four games and their special teams were clearly superior.
“The differences were obviously special teams, and goaltending,” said Laxdal. “Plus our inability to get to the hard areas to score goals. They (Rebels) did a great job that way. They’re a good team and they deserved to win the series, but it was great experience for the guys we have coming back next season.”
The Rebels’ penalty kill, as Laxdal noted, was extra special.
“When you look at their (Oil Kings’) regular-season power play, it wasn’t that successful,” said Ferguson. “That being said, they have some very skilled players and we were able to shut them down by taking away their time and space.
“We take pride in our four penalty-killers being able to outwork their five guys, something we did all series.”
The Rebels played their most complete game of the quarter-final set Thursday, and in fact seemed to gather momentum as the series progressed.
“That’s what we want,” said Ferguson. “We want to keep building, we don’t want to get on a downslope. We weren’t great to start the series but we got better as we went along.”
Rebels head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin watched his club shed their playoff nerves in Game 2, and from there his troops were noticeably more composed and in control.
“You prepare for the playoffs all season and when they finally start you maybe put a little pressure on yourselves,” he said. “I thought we were a little uptight until about halfway through the second game.
“Now we just have to continue to build on that momentum moving forward.”
The Rebels’ won’t know who they will face in the conference semifinals until at least early next week.
Overtime: The Rebels were minus forward Adam Kambeitz and defenceman Aaron Borejko, both out with undisclosed illnesses/injuries. Red Deer scratches were forwards Marc McCoy and rearguards Lucas Grayson and Kayle Doetzel.