Rebels 4 Wheat Kings 3 (SO)
Bend, but don’t break.
That’s not the manner in which the Red Deer Rebels hoped to prevail in Wednesday’s WHL meeting with the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings, but they rode the goaltending of Patrik Bartosak and got a decisive shootout goal from Brooks Maxwell to pull out a 4-3 win before a recorded Centrium gathering of 4,248.
The Rebels were the better team in the opening period, but were dominated in the second — outshot 17-4 — and played well enough in the third to get the game to overtime and then a shootout that featured 14 shooters.
Maxwell finally ended the marathon when he beat Jordan Papirny with a backhand after the Brandon netminder failed to swipe the puck away from the Red Deer forward.
“I got the call there and I hadn’t participated in a shootout for a couple of years, so I was a little nervous, to be honest,” said Maxwell.
“I kind of have that move that I usually go to, I try to go five-hole but as soon as I saw that he (Papirny) tried a poke check I kind of went to my backhand and put it over his pad.”
The victory was Red Deer’s fifth in a row and moved the club into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the idle Regina Pats.
The Rebels also gained ground on two teams below them in the playoff race as the Prince Albert Raiders fell 3-2 at Lethbridge and the Kootenay Ice were 6-2 losers to the host Medicine Hat Tigers.
Still, it wasn’t a picture-perfect victory despite the fact the Rebels controlled the play in the opening frame, getting goals from Presten Kopeck and Scott Feser to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
But the Wheat Kings, who got an opening-frame goal from Rihard Bukarts while being outshot 16-10, were a different team in the second stanza despite failing to get a single shot past Bartosak.
“In the first period we played with pace and that’s how we want to play,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We want to play a pace game and they made some adjustments and took some things away from us in the second and we never made the adjustments we needed to make to allow us to keep playing at the level we want to play at.
“We dropped our guard and they came at us pretty hard in the second and gained momentum. We had to regroup in the third and got some of our game back.”
With the Rebels two men short, Brandon defenceman and captain Ryan Pulock moved into the high slot and blasted a drive past Bartosak to even the count at 2-2 early in the third period.
Rhyse Dieno restored Red Deer’s lead seven minutes later when he found himself all alone in front of the net and tipped Brady Gaudet’s point shot by Papirny.
But the visitors pressed for another tying goal and were rewarded when Peter Quenneville went hard to the net and converted a centering feed from Ryan Pilon at 18:18.
“You can’t drop your guard at any point in the season, let alone at this time of the year,” said Sutter. “
The battle that we’re in, we have to keep the edge all the time and stay on top of it mentally and physically. You can’t have a roller coaster through a game.
“There’s a certain level you have to play at and you have to stay at that level. When you deal with adversity during a game you have to handle it the right way and I didn’t think we handled it well at all in the second period. We were scrambling and no one outside of our goalie took charge. Patty was outstanding for us again, obviously.”
Bartosak made 39 saves during regulation time, including a glove stop on Richard Nejezchieb in overtime.
Just seconds later, Dieno broke in alone on Papirny and lost control of the puck while attempting a backhand deke.
Bartosak then thwarted six of seven Wheat Kings in the shootout. Papirny, a first-round pick of Brandon in the 2011 WHL bantam draft, came up with 26 saves through 65 minutes — including dandies on Feser and Dieno — and later stopped five of seven Red Deer shooters.
“The main thing at this time of the year is to find a way to win,” said Maxwell.
“These games are big when you’re battling for a playoff spot. We want to separate from the teams behind us and catch the teams in front of us and we’ve been doing a good job of that lately.”
l The game’s lone scrap, in the opening period, saw Brandon’s Kord Pankewicz gain a slight edge over Rebels forward Evan Polei before being dropped with a wicked right hand. Pankewicz left the game and although he returned in the second period he didn’t play another shift.
l The Rebels, who were minus the services of forwards Lukas Sutter (upper body, indefinite), Vukie Mpofu (lower body, day-to-day) and Wyatt Johnson (upper body, indefinite), host the Lethbridge Hurricanes Friday and take on the visiting Tri-City Americans 24 hours later.