Rustlers 6 Kings 5 (Rustlers 2-0 series lead)
The Red Deer Rustlers expected a push back from the Morinville Kings and they got all they could handle Sunday.
In Game 2 of the North Central Senior Hockey League best-of-five series, after the Rustlers won the opener Saturday on the road, it was another barn-burner in Penhold.
Red Deer eventually picked up a 6-5 victory, but it was closer than it needed to be after they jumped out to a commanding 4-1 lead in the first period and looked in control through 40 minutes up 6-3.
“First two periods we stuck to the game plan we wanted to forecheck and work hard and take the pressure to them and it was paying off,” said Rustlers captain Mike Dempster.
The Kings, who were the top-ranked NCHL team in the regular season for a reason, didn’t go away quietly.
The visitors scored twice shorthanded almost four minutes apart midway through the third to cut the deficit to one.
“In the third, we just stayed back and hung back didn’t put our foot on the gas and they’re too talented of a team to let that happen. If you don’t work hard against them, they’re going to score goals,” Dempster said.
“On the penalty kill, they’re fast and they’re explosive and they work hard. They can score shorthanded or power play. If you’re not ready to play, it’s going to be ugly.”
From there, the home side relied heavily on goaltender Mike Salmon, who was banged up several times in the contest. Salmon finished 24 saves in the victory, a number of which came in the dying minutes with Red Deer trying to hang onto the lead.
“He’s been our all-star all playoffs so far. He’s played phenomenal. We hung him out to dry a couple of the shorthanded goals, not even a chance,” Dempster said.
Landon Kletke buried twice in the opening frame, including one of the three Rustlers’ power play goals in the first. Colton Bobyk and Tyler Berkholtz also sniped in the first 20 minutes of the contest.
Considering the huge road victory Saturday, the 4-1 lead early turned out to be crucial for Red Deer.
“It’s huge, getting up early was massive. Once we create that forecheck we do well and we have success with it. We had a lot of chances Saturday and didn’t capitalize and made it closer than it needed to be,” added Dempster.
Morinville scored to make it 4-2 midway through the second, but Braden Corbett Tucker Scantlebury scored just 45 seconds apart late in the period to push the advantage.
Morinville was the top NCHL team in the regular season with an 11-4-0-1 mark but lost both times the two teams met.
Game 3 of the best-of-five series is Saturday in Morinville and Game 4, if necessary is back in Penhold on Feb. 29.