Special teams were a huge factor for the Red Deer Rebels, last weekend, as they kicked off their second round series with a pair of close wins over the visiting Regina Pats.
The Rebels and Pats have combined for just three even strength goals through the first two games of the best of seven series, which included 3-2 and 4-3 wins for the Rebels on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
“It’s the way the series has been,” said Rebels Head Coach/GM Brent Sutter after Sunday evening’s win.
Sutter’s team didn’t get off to the greatest of starts in the series, though, as penalty troubles and sluggish play in the first period of Game 1 last Saturday led to an early deficit for the home team.
“In the first period, I thought we were skating in quicksand. They won a lot of battles in the first period and they outplayed us in the first,” Sutter said after Saturday’s game.
Regina’s power play, the deadliest in the league since the playoffs started, got to work early, converting on their first two chances of the series to take an early 2-0 lead on goals from captain Colby Williams and key scorer Cole Sanford.
“I just think the emotion level had to pick up. I thought we were playing on our heels. And that’s not taking anything away from Regina because I thought they had a heck of a first period, but we needed to get ourselves into the game,” Sutter said.
Rebels’ forward Evan Polei weighed in saying, “Brent wasn’t too happy. Like I said our start was below average and we definitely need to start better to beat this team in the upcoming games for sure.”
But after the first intermission the Rebels seemed to transform.
Suddenly, a team that had been outshot 8-4 in the first period came out and put up 14 shots in the second.
It was only a matter of time before they capitalized, and that opportunity came halfway through the second when they were given a full two minute five on three opportunity thanks to a pair of Regina penalties.
The home team got on the board just seconds later as a shot by Luke Philp led to a scramble in front of Pats’ goalie Tyler Brown. While Brown reached back and forth on his back to try to keep the puck out of his net, Rebels’ leading scorer Adam Helewka managed to find the puck and fire it into the gaping net. The score was 2-1 Regina.
Just 30 seconds later the Rebels went to work again. Still on the power play, the Rebels worked the puck up to defenseman Colton Bobyk, who ripped a cannon of a shot that rang off the post behind Brown.
A sound of disappointment from the Centrium crowd of about 5,800 quickly turned into cheers, however, as the puck bounced over the goal line and into the net to tie the game at two.
The game remained deadlocked until halfway through the third when Polei got the puck in the Regina end, skated it down the right side, dodged a hip check by the Regina defender and fired it high glove side on Brown for the winning goal.
Game two was a much more back and forth affair.
Again the Rebels got into some early penalty troubles and Regina’s Sam Steel found the back of the net with Bobyk in the box for interference to give the Pats a 1-0 lead in the first.
Ten minutes later, though, the Rebels responded.
With the Pats on the penalty kill, Brandon Hagel dished a pass up to smooth skating defenseman Josh Mahura who one timed it through Brown’s five hole to tie it up. The score was 1-1.
The game went on like that. Hagel and Michael Spacek connected on a give and go to give their team the 2-1 lead before Sanford put it past Rebels’ goalie Trevor Martin, again on the power play, to tie it.
Helewka potted his seventh goal of the playoffs on the power play to give the Rebels a 3-2 lead before regular season scoring champion Adam Brooks picked up a goal on the man advantage to tie it up at three for the Pats with just two seconds remaining in the second period.
The game really turned in the Rebels’ favour, though, when they managed to kill off a full four minute high sticking penalty early in the third period. The kill gave the home team all of the momentum in the final frame.
Minutes later the Rebels took advantage of a power play opportunity themselves as Mahura took a slap shot towards the right side of the Regina goal, which Adam Musil quickly deflected past Brown for the game winner just as the man advantage expired.
“We scored some big power play goals, as did they. But they key point in the game was being able to kill four minutes five on four off in a tight hockey game and score what was basically a power play goal right after that,” Sutter said.
Martin made some huge saves down the stretch to clinch the win, most notably flashing his glove out to catch the puck for the game winning save as time expired. Final score: 4-3 Rebels.
“I think (Martin) would have liked to have the third one back. It was just a rebound that got away from him. But he was solid. In the third period he just shut the door and made some big saves. We need that,” Sutter said of his goaltender.
Game three went on Tuesday night at the Brandt Centre in Regina and wasn’t over at press time. Game four is slated for Wednesday night in Regina.
Editor’s note: The Red Deer Rebels lost the to Regina Pats Tuesday night by a score of 6-3.