Responding was the order of the day for the Red Deer Rebels.
After losing two games where they had the lead late, Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter had to have his team respond.
On home ice Tuesday night, the Rebels did what they had to do and rebounded with a 6-2 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings. The win cut the Wheat Kings Western Hockey League Eastern Conference Final lead in half to 2-1.
“We’re still down 2-1 in this series and we needed to win this first one,” said Sutter. “Now this is over and we need to prepare for Game 4.”
Sutter pointed to two key Rylan Toth saves and the work of the penalty killers, killing Evan Polei’s tripping penalty eight minutes into the first period.
“They were great saves and obviously it kept the lead for us,” said Sutter. “You need goaltending, we’re playing a very good hockey team and our goaltending has to be good.”
Toth stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced. He stopped numerous Wheat Kings scoring chances, preserving the lead.
“They didn’t go away and we knew they wouldn’t,” said Toth. “We wanted to go into the third taking it as if it were a 0-0 game and play like a normal period. Don’t play like we’re up, don’t play not to lose, just keep on our toes.”
An offensive explosion in the first period from the Rebels put them up 4-0, including three goals in two minutes. Goals from Haydn Fleury, Austin Strand, Braden Purtill and Polei put the Wheat Kings on their heels early.
Strand’s goal came 1:51 into the first period while Fleury and Purtill scored within seven seconds of each other.
“We obviously had a good start to the game,” said Sutter. “We scored the early goal and I thought the key to that first period was killing off that penalty and we got a few goals after.
“Our second and third period wasn’t great, we preserved the win I guess.”
Polei was credited with his seventh of the post-season and the fourth goal of the game when a pass from Brandon Hagel bounced off his leg and into the net, putting the Rebels up 4-0. Wheat Kings GM/head coach Kelly McCrimmon pulled Papirny after the fourth goal in favour Thompson.
“Brent talked about tonight being a Game 7 and I think we did a good job approaching it that way,” said Toth. “It’s the same thing Wednesday, we have to tie it up and go back to Brandon.”
Adam Helewka led the Rebels with three assists, while Jeff De Witt had a goal and an assist.
Game 4 is back at the Centrium tonight as the two teams resume hostilities for the second night in a row, puck drop is 7 p.m.
Notes: Nikolishin, who had 31 goals in the regular season, returned to the lineup after missing a month with an injury sustained during the first round against the Calgary Hitmen. He had one assist in his return, on the Purtill goal … The Rebels outshot the Wheat Kings 34-27, making it the second game this series the Rebels have outshot the Wheat Kings … 5,317 fans packed into the Centrium.