Rebels fall to ‘Canes; Game 6 Sunday at the Centrium
Hurricanes 5 Rebels 3
LETHBRIDGE — The Red Deer Rebels hung with the Lethbridge Hurricanes until nearly the bitter end Saturday.
But a lack of defensive presence and a handful of costly turnovers proved fatal in a 5-3 WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final loss in front of 4,562 fans at the Enmax Centre.
“We made too many mistakes. You can’t make those types of mistakes with coverage in your own zone at this point in the season,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose club still leads the best-of-seven set 3-2 with Game 6 set for Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Centrium.
The Rebels, to their credit, battled back on three occasions but could never get over the hump against a Hurricanes squad battling to stay alive.
Alex Baer opened the scoring for the hosts at 13:58 of the first period and Michael Spacek connected from a scramble 4:20 into the middle stanza to pull the Rebels even.
From there, ‘Canes forward Zane Franklin buried a rebound two and a half minutes later and Brandon Hagel responded for Red Deer — with a power play re-direction of captain Adam Musil’s shot from the top of the right circle — at 10:25.
The ‘Canes received a major break a mere 11 seconds later when Rebels defenceman Carson Sass lost an edge while moving the puck out of the defensive zone and Matt Alfaro scooped up the loose puck and beat netminder Riley Lamb with a rising shot from 30 feet out.
The Rebels, however, roared back again with a goal from Hagel, whose wrist shot from the left circle slipped under the arm of Lethbridge netminder Stuart Skinner.
The visitors didn’t have another answer, however, as Zak Zborosky buried a bouncing puck from close range for the eventual winning goal at 2:28 of the third period and Giorgio Estephan potted an empty-net tally with 26 seconds remaining after forcing a turnover by Spacek at the ‘Canes blueline.
“Our coverage around the front of our net wasn’t great at times tonight, and we turned the puck over on their fourth goal,” said Sutter. “We weren’t hard enough on the puck and stuff like that can’t happen at this time of the season.”
The Rebels boss hasn’t been impressed with his bottom six forwards in the series.
“We didn’t have the level of urgency they (Hurricanes) had in the first period and our third- and fourth-line player are all minus players and that’s not a good recipe for success,” he said. “They have to be better than that. You can’t win in the playoffs with six to seven forwards playing.”
Sutter was OK with his club’s ability to respond from most of the Lethbridge goals but again stressed the need for a more balanced attack.
“We never quit, but I had to shorten the bench because some guys weren’t going,” he said. “You need your bench, you need everyone playing and those young guys are going to be back next year.
“They are being evaluated for next year too. It’s a great experience these kids are going through. They saw tonight how hard a team plays facing elimination and we have to be able to match that.”
Notable: The Rebels were minus the services of forward Lane Zablocki, who was nailed with a one-game suspension for a double minor he was assessed for a hit on ‘Canes defenceman Brady Pouteau in Game 4 at the Centrium . . . Meanwhile, forward Reese Johnson was inserted into the Red Deer lineup for the first time this season after undergoing shoulder surgery for the second time in two years . . . Lamb stopped 36 shots while Skinner made 39 saves . . . If the Rebels fail to close out the series Sunday, a seventh game will be played Tuesday at Lethbridge.