Just two games left in the regular season for the Red Deer Rebels, who are hoping to hold off the Medicine Hat Tigers in the race for top spot in the Central Division.
The Rebels are coming off a weekend that saw them pick up five of a possible six points, opening their three games in three nights schedule with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Tigers in Medicine Hat on Friday.
Saturday night, the Rebels got five points out of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, including three goals, in a 5-0 win over Swift Current.
With those five points, Nugent-Hopkins became the first Rebel to tally 100 points in a season since Justin Mapletoft (120) and Kyle Wanvig (101) did it back in 2000-20001.
“I never really thought about it,” laughed Nugent-Hopkins when told he was the first Rebel in a decade to reach the century mark.
“I mean, it’s a great feeling getting to 100 points but I’ve had lots of help and lots of support. It’s a great honour.”
Saturday’s game was also significant because it was the 13th shutout of the season for netminder Darcy Kuemper, tying the Western Hockey League record for shutouts in a single season.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” beamed the Minnesota Wild draft pick after Saturday’s game.
“I never thought I’d have a chance at that record. But it was awesome to bear down there and, the way the team played, they definitely knew what was on the line. You could tell in their play, just with the way they kept it simple and I can’t be thankful enough to them.”
On Sunday, the Rebels headed south to Calgary to face the league worst Hitmen for the final time this season, but it was the Hitmen getting the better of the chances in jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the second period.
“It didn’t look like we were mentally sharp through the first part of the game,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin after the contest.
“In the first period, we were ok, generating a few opportunities. In the second period, we just made some mental mistakes that ended up leading to some goals.
“We challenged the guys in the late stages of the second and going into the third period to just sharpen up, that we needed to be better and just how huge these points were. The guys responded and guys that hadn’t played well to that point in the game stepped up for us and I thought everybody raised their level and we found a way to win, which is what we needed to do.”
Nugent-Hopkins, who is riding a six game point scoring streak, got the comeback started with his 28th of the season with less than five minutes to play in the second.
Turner Elson would make it a 2-2 game just under two minutes into the third before Dumba scored the game winner on a breakaway with about nine minutes left in the game.
Brett Ferguson, with his 22nd of the season, would seal the deal with an empty-netter, giving the Rebels a 4-2 win.
The Rebels, who are sitting in second in the Eastern Conference with 100 points, will win the Central Division crown if they can sweep a season ending home and home set with Edmonton, which starts Friday at Rexall Place.
“These last few games are huge. We win them all and we finish second in the East,” said Kuemper.
“We’ve got it in our own hands right now, and that’s the attitude in the room, and you can see it in our play. Not only do you get a banner up in the rafters, but home ice advantage is going to be so huge. That’s definitely our goal and we’re really focused on it.”