It’s been two steps forward, one step back for the Red Deer Rebels since snapping an eight game losing skid late last month.
With the Western Hockey League playoffs just seven games away, the Rebels are beginning to hear footsteps as they attempt to hold down the third and final playoff spot in the Central Division.
“We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty here. We lost some ground here tonight. Both Calgary and Lethbridge won, so we lose a point to those teams but again we’re still in control but we’ve got to win, we’ve got to nail down these games that we’ve got leads in. We can’t lose them anymore,” said Rebels’ Head Coach/GM Brent Sutter after his squad dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to the Swift Current Broncos at the Centrium on Saturday night.
At the time of writing, the Rebels (26-28-7-4) held a three point lead over the Hitmen (25-30-8-2) in the Central Division standings.
Should that gap close, the Rebs would drop into the second and final Eastern Conference Wild Card spot and be just four points away from falling out of the playoff picture entirely.
Although the Rebels have made some headway in separating themselves from the Hitmen over the past week, recording an important 7-2 victory over their provincial rivals the weekend before last, the team has been struggling to play a full, consistent 60 minutes and it has been hurting them in the standings.
That inconsistency, Sutter said, played a role in Saturday night’s loss to the Broncos.
The Rebels put up a solid showing in a scoreless first period, killing off three early penalties to hold the fort.
Overall, Sutter said the Rebels special teams corps had a good showing in the game.
Rookie goaltender Riley Lamb turned aside 11 first period shots on his way to a 39 save performance and a first star selection.
The solid play continued into the second period and eventually it paid off for the home side as Rebels forward Dawson Martin banged in a rebound on the power play to give his team a narrow 1-0 lead. That lead would hold until the final five minutes of the third period, when Swift Current’s Aleksi Heponiemi sniped a shot top corner on Lamb to tie it up and send it to overtime.
It didn’t take long for the Broncos to capitalize on the momentum of the late game tying goal. Less than a minute into overtime Sylvan Lake native Tyler Steenbergen sealed the deal.
Sutter said part of the reason for the third period tying goal was a lack of drive to expand the lead on the Rebels’ part.
Beyond the consistency troubles, the Rebels were dealt another difficult blow earlier this week when they learned that team captain Adam Musil will be out week to week with a non-hockey related lower body injury.
Red Deer will be back in action on Friday night when they travel to Cranbrook to take on the Kootenay ICE in the first leg of a home and home set.