For the first time since 2004, the Red Deer Rebels are into the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
The Rebels advanced last Thursday with a 5-1 win over Edmonton, giving Red Deer a four games to none series win in the Eastern Conference Quarter-final.
“I thought we came into the game with a real sense of purpose,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin after the series clinching win.
“We treated it like it was a huge game, which it was, but we certainly didn’t go into it feeling like we had a 3-0 lead. We approached it as the next game and it was an important game to win and I thought our guys came out with a lot of intensity.”
The Rebels and Oil Kings, as they did in game three, finished the first period in a scoreless tie, with both teams doing their best not to make the first mistake.
In the second period, it was the Rebels jumping out to a 1-0 lead with rookie rear-guard Matt Dumba beating Oil Kings starter Laurent Brossoit with a blast from the points just under six minutes in.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, with his fourth of the post-season, made it 2-0 Red Deer four minutes later before Andrej Kudrna connected with a power play goal to make it 3-0.
With just under 20 seconds left in the middle frame, Brett Ferguson roofed a shot up and over a fallen Brossoit to make it 4-0 Red Deer after two periods.
“We stuck with it, stayed patient, and obviously opened it up in the second period,” said Wallin.
“We capitalized on a few opportunities, got the big lead and were able to bring it home in the third. All in all, I thought it was most complete game of the series from start to finish.”
Oil Kings rookie Curtis Lazar, with his first ever WHL goal, would cut the deficit to 4-1 late in the third period before Ferguson was credited with his second goal of the game after he was hauled down on an empty net breakaway.
Rebels captain Colin Archer says the difference in the series was the goaltending and the special teams.
“There’s not going to be as many penalties in the post season but it’s still huge and it comes at key times,” said Archer.
“We had a couple of games where we took late penalties and we killed them off so that was big. Darcy’s been a big part of the penalty kill too. He’s stopped some big shots so it’s been good. We give him the shots we know he can stop. He gets a lot of outside shots and we try and eliminate the ones from the middle but sometimes they get there and he’s always there to bail us out. It’s almost a fault. We trust him to get those shots, even the ones he shouldn’t get we expect him to get so it’s good. He’s been doing well.”
Up next for the Rebels is the second round, where they’ll face another division rival in Medicine Hat, which advanced to round two Monday night with a series clinching 7-5 win over Brandon.
It promises to be a tough series for the Rebels, who beat the Tigers just once in six meetings this regular season.
Games one and two will be held at the Enmax Centrium this Friday and Saturday, with the series shifting to Medicine Hat for games three and four next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Games five and seven, if necessary, will go at the Centrium April 16th and 20th respectively, with the Tigers hosting game six, if necessary, on April 18.
Notes: Nugent-Hopkins, who put up 19 points in the final eight regular season games, finished the first round as Red Deer’s top scorer, adding five assists to his four goals for nine points in four games, and was named the WHL Player of the Month for March. The last time Red Deer and Medicine Hat met in the playoffs, it was a first round match-up in 2006-2007, which the Tigers won in seven games.