Rebels 5 Hurricanes 2 (Lethbridge leads the best-of-seven series 3-1)
The Red Deer Rebels finally showed some fight with their backs against the wall on Wednesday night at home.
Facing elimination in game 4, down 3-0 in the WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final best-of-seven series with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, the Rebels avoided the sweep and extended their playoff stay a few extra days.
Red Deer pulled out a 5-2 victory as their playoff fate hung in the balance and they showed plenty of grit and determination that was lacking in the first two games of the series.
“Great win, we needed it. Everyone played a good game. Good team effort,” said Rebels veteran forward Reese Johnson, who scored the opening goal of the game and was named second star.
“We needed a pushback from everyone, it’s been awesome these two games at home and just have to carry that into Saturday.”
For the first time in the series, the Rebels held the Hurricanes off the scoreboard on the power play.
Lethbridge had scored nine goals on the man-advantage in three games heading into Wednesday. With a Brandon Hagel power-play goal, it was the first time the Rebels won the special teams battle against the Hurricanes.
“(The penalty kill) was huge and to get the power play goal, too,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said.
“It’s just having better awareness and doing things better and the little details that we were getting away from. They’ve got a good power play, but you can’t give them freebies. We’re getting the saves when we need them and that was important.”
Ethan Anders picked up his first playoff win with 34 saves on the night and made several key stops late in the game as the Rebels were trying to close it out. He also picked up a rare assist on the Rebels’ fourth goal.
“Andy made a couple key saves late in the third there on good quality scoring chances, he stopped the puck which is huge at this time of the year,” Johnson added.
Johnson fired a wrist shot high blocker past Hurricanes Logan Flodell on a breakaway midway through the first to give the Rebels a 1-0 advantage. It was his first career playoff goal.
After a period dominated mostly by the Rebels, Lethbridge tied the game at one with just 40 seconds left in the first frame. Matthew Stanley found the mark from a sharp angle just below the faceoff dot that beat Anders along the ice.
Despite being heavily outshot in the period, Tate Olson scored late in the second to put the Hurricanes up 2-1. Brad Morrison hit Olson with a behind-the-back pass and the defenceman one-timed the shot past Anders. Morrison leads the WHL 12 points in four playoff games.
Mason McCarty responded just over a minute later to knot the game at two. It was the 21-year-old forward’s first playoff goal in just his fourth career post-season contest.
Lethbridge was hit with a too-many-men penalty late in the second period and it proved costly early in the final frame. Kristian Reichel fired a shot from the point that deflected to Hagel at the side of the net and he buried his fourth goal of the playoffs just 38 seconds into the third period.
Midway through the third, just out of the penalty box, Alex Alexeyev was sprung all alone on a breakaway and the Russian defenceman deked and put a backhand past Flodell. It was just the second game in March for the 17-year-old after his missed most of the month with an upper-body injury.
Reichel scored an empty net goal with 28 seconds to play to seal the win.
Game 5 is Saturday in Lethbridge and Sutter said if his team can play like they did at home, they’ll have a shot to win.
“Play like we can. We haven’t played well in Lethbridge in this series and we know that,” Sutter said.
“It’s playoff hockey. The two games we played here were much better than the two games there. We just need to carry that on and see what happens.”
If necessary, game 6 will be in Red Deer on April 1 at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.