Cougars 4 Rebels 3 (OT)
One is a lonely number.
It’s also a slippery digit, as the Red Deer Rebels learned the hard way Sunday when they let a single point slide through their fingers. The Rebels, in front of 4,527 fans at the Centrium, surrendered a late third-period goal and then a power-play tally in overtime and dropped a 4-3 Western Hockey League decision to the Prince George Cougars.
The result was a difficult one to fathom for the home side, considering the Cougars seldom left their own zone in the final frame and were outshot 42-23 overall. In addition, the Rebels scored twice in the third period to grab a 3-2 lead before Brett Connolly potted the tying goal with 1:58 remaining and then connected in the extra session with Red Deer forward Andrej Kudrna serving a slashing penalty.
“We battled back pretty hard in the third period but it was kind of all for naught when it came to overtime,” said Rebels veteran Brett Ferguson, who shared time on the blueline with fellow forward Byron Froese with defencemen Matt Dumba and Justin Weller out with injuries.
“We took a tough penalty and unfortunately sacrificed a point that should have been ours tonight.”
The visitors, closing out a five-game trip that started Tuesday in Edmonton, showed plenty of hustle in the first period. After Red Deer’s John Persson cashed a centering pass from Turner Elson five minutes into the contest, the Cougars got goals from Troy Bourke and Taylor Stefishen before the period ended.
Bourke beat Rebels netminder Dawson Guhle from the faceoff circle and Stefishen walked out of the corner unmolested and scored on a wide wrap-around.
“It was a frustrating night,” said Rebels head coach/VP of hockey operations Jesse Wallin. “We had a slow start and gave up two easy goals on breakdowns. I just don’t think we battled hard enough.”
The Rebels pretty much carried the play the rest of the way, outshooting their guests 14-6 in a scoreless second period and 14-4 in the final 20 minutes of regulation time. But Cougars netminder Ty Rimmer shut the door until he dropped a point shot from Brad Deagle and watched Chad Robinson score his second goal of the season on a backhand from close range at 4:58 of the third.
When Persson, parked just outside the crease, buried a feed from Kudrna for a 3-2 Rebels lead at 12:29, the Cougars looked like a worn out and beaten team. However, Rimmer came up large time and again with Red Deer pushing for an insurance marker and Connolly rewarded his netminder when he beat Guhle from a sharp angle to force overtime.
The Prince George ace then potted his 35th of the season in overtime, taking a pass from Sean Acolatse and ripping home the winner from the high slot.
“To get a win here is huge,” said Cougars head coach Dean Clark. “You could tell we ran out of gas kind of halfway through the second period, but our better players got it done for us in the end.
“We’ve found a way to lose some games on this trip, but we found a way to win tonight. To get two points against a real tough team is big for us.”
Like their counterparts, the Rebels were playing their third game in three nights — following 4-1 and 3-0 wins over Calgary and Lethbridge Friday and Saturday — but picked up the pace as the evening progressed.
“I thought we got better through the second period and limited their opportunities,” said Wallin, “and we really played well for the most part through the third period. But ultimately, at the end of the night some breakdowns cost us.
“On their third goal we backed into the zone and then we took a penalty in overtime that you just can’t take. It was just an undisciplined, unnecessary, costly penalty.”
On a positive note, the Rebels garnered five of six points during the weekend while missing two of their top rearguards.
“It’s kind of a mixed bag, because I’m proud of the guys for how they played through the course of the weekend,” said Wallin. “We had guys step up and play different roles for us, but it’s certainly disappointing when you have one in hand and you feel like you let it slip away.”
Rimmer played a large role in disappointing the Rebels, making 39 saves on the evening.
“He certainly played well,” said Wallin. “We had a number of opportunities to put it away in the third period and he made some big stops for them. That’s part of the game.”
Ferguson wondered if the Rebels actually deserved a better fate.
“We didn’t come out very hard. Maybe we controlled the play a bit, but we didn’t really play the way we can until the third period, and that tends to come back and bite you,” he said.
• On Saturday, the visiting Rebels fired 25 shots at Brandon Anderson through 40 minutes without beating the Lethbridge netminder, then got a trio of power-play goals to win going away.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Byron Froese and Andrej Kudrna connected, while Darcy Kuemper stopped 27 shots to chalk up his 11th shutout of the season. Anderson made 39 saves for the Hurricanes.