Rebels 3 Giants 2 (SO)
For the better part of 55 minutes, the Red Deer Rebels looked like a team playing its fourth game in five nights.
But what’s that old saying? Good teams find a way to win?
The Rebels were a step behind the Vancouver Giants for much of Saturday’s Western Hockey League contest at the Centirum, but got a 38-save performance from Darcy Kuemper and recorded a 3-2 shootout win before 5,254 fans.
“It was a tough game, no question,” said Rebels head coach/VP of hockey operations Jesse Wallin. “I thought we looked like a mentally tired hockey team tonight.
“We made a lot of mental mistakes.”
Rebels rookie rearguard Matt Dumba opened the scoring 8:40 into the game when he busted to the net and redirected a nifty feed from Andrej Kudrna past netminder Mark Segal.
Despite holding a 17-9 advantage in shots and a 29-16 edge after 40 minutes, the visitors were unable to get a puck past a razor-sharp Kuemper.
The Rebels got what appeared to be a possible insurance goal at 1:13 into the third period, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hit Colin Archer with a drop-pass and the captain scored from the low slot.
But 49 seconds later, with Red Deer’s Josh Cowen off for elbowing, Neil Manning’s point shot through a crowd struck Kuemper and trickled over the line.
Jordan Martinook followed with a wrap-around goal at 4:34 and just like that, the game was even.
“We were fortunate to be up 2-0 in the third period,” said Wallin. “But we were good the last six or seven minutes. That was as well as we played all night.”
But despite applying pressure in the late stages, the Rebels couldn’t find a winning goal.
The overtime was scoreless and the teams lined up for the shootout, in which Nugent-Hopkins and Daulton Siwak, with the eventual winner, were the successful snipers among the five Red Deer shooters. Meanwhile, Kuemper allowed just a single shootout goal, to Craig Cunningham.
“I got into the game early. They had a lot of shots in the first period,” said Kuemper, named the game’s first star after recording his first shootout win of the season. “I felt confident early and I kind of had the mindset that I wasn’t going to lose tonight.”
The victory allowed the Rebels to maintain their three-point lead over Kootenay for first place in the Central Division. Red Deer, which picked up seven points in the four games they played since Tuesday, also moved a point up on Saskatoon for top spot in the Eastern Conference.
“In the first period our attention to detail just wasn’t there, although the guys were working hard,” said Wallin. “But when you’ve played the amount of hockey that we have lately . . . we just seemed to be a step behind and we made a lot of mistakes as far as just little breakdowns here and there. We also made a lot of needless turnovers that were really just mental mistakes.
“We made it hard on ourselves, but at the same time you have to find a way to win these kinds of games and we were able to gut it out tonight.”