PUCK STOPPING- Red Deer Rebel Darcy Kuemper tries to stop the puck during WHL action Friday night against the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Rebels won 5-3 on Friday and again on Saturday with a 5-1 win.

PUCK STOPPING- Red Deer Rebel Darcy Kuemper tries to stop the puck during WHL action Friday night against the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Rebels won 5-3 on Friday and again on Saturday with a 5-1 win.

Rebels close to winning the first round of the playoff series

Game four set for tomorrow in Edmonton

The Red Deer Rebels are on the verge of winning their first playoff series since 2004.

The Rebels lead the Edmonton Oil Kings 3-0 in their opening round best of seven playoff series after two wins at home and one on the road.

Red Deer opened the Eastern Conference quarter-final at the Centrium last weekend with wins of 5-3 and 5-1 over the Oil Kings, before heading up to Edmonton for Monday’s game three.

That one saw the two teams play two scoreless periods before T.J. Foster gave the Oil Kings their first lead of the series, beating Darcy Kuemper just under two minutes into the third period to make it 1-0 Edmonton.

Byron Froese, with his first of two goals on the night, evened things up at 1-1 with a powerplay marker before Daulton Siwak scored the game winner with 1:52 left to play in regulation.

Froese would add another one just 20 seconds later to give Red Deer the 3-1 win and a 3-0 series lead.

“It was a hard fought game. It was a tough game, and there wasn’t a lot of space out there,” said Rebels Head Coach Jesse Wallin after Monday’s win.

“I thought we played ok, I just would have liked to have seen more a little more sense of urgency through different periods of the game. For stretches, we didn’t finish enough checks, and looked like we backed down a little bit, backing away from hits and not getting in and finishing checks with a real sense of purpose. Having said that, we found a way and in that third period, I thought we showed some mental toughness. We gave up the goal on a casual turnover, a turnover that ended up in our net, but we didn’t allow it to phase us. Really, that was our wake up call, we thought we got to get going here.”

Special teams have been key for Red Deer through the first trio of games, as the Rebels’ powerplay has scored four times on 14 chances, while the penalty killers have kept Edmonton’s powerplay off the board.

“The powerplay goal was big, capitalizing for us, and then we just stuck with it and found a way to get it done,” said Wallin.

“Obviously, the winning goal was a huge goal. It took 58 minutes and change to get it but that’s playoff hockey. These guys aren’t going to back down and we knew that coming in. We just have to really play with a sense of urgency each and every shift.”

The Rebels now have the chance to close out the series when they take the ice at Rexall Place tomorrow night for game four, and Wallin thinks having an extra day off in between will be nothing but beneficial for his club.

“It’s important. These are intense games. Having a day to get kind of caught up on rest will do us well,” said Wallin, who gave his troops a day off on Tuesday.

“We’ll get a good practice in and the plan is to play our best game of the series coming back here on Thursday night. We don’t want to let them hang around. We’ve got to have that killer instinct to shut this thing down come Thursday.”

Game time on Thursday is 7 p.m.

Game five in the series, if necessary, will be held Saturday at the Centrium.

Notes: 17-year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, with three goals and seven points, is the Rebels’ leading scorer after the opening three games. Brett Ferguson, who set up three goals in Saturday’s 5-3 win and earned first star honours, is the WHL player of the week after putting up five points in two games, and adding another point in Mondays win. The Rebels have called up a couple of prospects for their playoff run, with 2010 first round bantam pick Kayle Doetzel and Marc McCoy joining the team now that their midget AAA seasons are over, although neither has seen any ice time.