Rebels roar back from two goals down to upend ‘Canes in Game 1
Rebels 4 Hurricanes 2
LETHBRIDGE — The Red Deer Rebels picked the most opportune time to snap a rather lengthy and unenviable streak.
The Rebels entered Saturday’s WHL playoff contest versus the Lethbridge Hurricanes having not won in the southern Alberta city since Jan. 13 of 2015, then silenced the Enmax Centre faithful with two late goals and a 4-2 come-from-behind victory before 4,118 fans.
With the positive result, the Rebels grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final. Game 2 is Sunday in Lethbridge, with the puck dropping at 6 p.m.
With the game deadlocked at 2-2 and seemingly headed to overtime, the Rebels got the big break they needed at 17:51 of the third period when ‘Canes forward Jordy Bellerive was assessed a double minor for high-sticking.
Just 12 seconds later, Brandon Hagel batted a rebound out of the air and past Lethbridge netminder Stuart Skinner for the winning goal.
Still short-handed, the ‘Canes pulled Skinner for a fifth attacker and pressed in the final minute. But the Rebels got a big save from Riley Lamb off Giorgio Estephan and Lane Zablocki sealed the deal with an empty-net, man-advantage tally with 4.1 seconds remaining.
The Rebels were outshot 13-8 in the opening frame and trailed 1-0 at the intermission. Hurricanes captain Tyler Wong accounted for the lone goal by cashing a rebound of a point shot by Brennan Menell.
Red Deer native Ryan Vandervlis made it 2-0 for the hosts at 3:14 of the second period, beating Lamb through the pads from close range.
But the Rebels were the better team the rest of the way and their rally started late in the middle frame when Michael Spacek stripped Bellerive of the puck at centre ice, worked his way into the low slot and waited for a ‘Canes defenceman and Skinner to commit before finding the back of the net.
“Spac’s goal settled us in, it made it 2-1 and we had some very good shifts after that and made a big push in the third,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
“We were on our heels in the first period and they came at us pretty good. I think a lot of it was just nerves.
“We got going probably after about the first five minutes of the second. We started moving our feel and finishing more checks and got more engaged in the game.”
Cameron Hausinger pulled the visitors even 1:55 into the final period, stepping out from behind the net and, from a sharp angle, beating Skinner high to the short side.
The Rebels outshot the ‘Canes 25-14 through the second and third periods and 33-27 overall.
Red Deer’s special teams were superb, thanks in large part to Lamb, as the power play was two-for-five and the penalty kill was six-for-six.
“Our goalie played well and our specialty teams were huge. We killed off some big penalties and our power play capitalized when we needed it,” said Sutter.
The Rebels boss stressed the need for his players to remain on an even keel with Game 2 looming in less than 24 hours.
His post-game message to his charges?
“Just stay level-headed. Enjoy it briefly until you go to bed tonight and get ready for tomorrow’s game.”
Notable: Spacek, who also assisted on Hagel’s winner, was selected as the game’s first star, followed in order by Hagel and Wong . . . Evan Polei was Red Deer’s other multi-point player with a pair of assists . . . Games 3 and 4 of the series will be played Wednesday and Thursday at the Centrium. Additional games, as/if they are needed, will go next Saturday in Lethbridge, Sunday, April 2 in Red Deer and Tuesday, April 4 at Lethbridge.