Hurricanes 4 Rebels 3
The Brandon Wheat Kings left the back door open and the Red Deer Rebels slipped through.
Despite losing the final home game of their 2018-19 WHL regular-season schedule 4-3 to the Lethbridge Hurricanes Friday, the Rebels secured a playoff berth when the Regina Pats staged a stunning comeback and downed the visiting Wheat Kings 5-4.
With the away result, the Rebels clinched the second Eastern Conference post-season wild-card spot and set up a first-round series with the Prince Albert Raiders, who will host the first two games of the best-of-seven next weekend.
“We got help but I wish we could have helped ourselves,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “We’ll take it but you don’t like having to go in back door.
“I’m still reeling about losing tonight. But we’ll take the help we got. Obviously it certainly puts us in the playoffs, but again, I wish we could have helped ourselves by winning our (most recent) games.”
The Rebels more than held their own with the visiting ‘Canes after the first period, and in fact carried the play through a second stanza in which they scored two goals, including captain Reese Johnson’s second and third of the evening.
The clubs were tied 3-3 heading into the final frame before Jake Leschyshyn buried a rebound from the edge of the crease early in the period. It was his third of the game, coming shortly after an odd-man rush by the visitors, and held up as the winner.
“We played well, we certainly had lots of chances, especially in the second period,” said Sutter. “It’s a tough way to lose a game. You have to play to the score, you can’t put pucks in shin pads and give up an odd-man rush.
“It’s a tough way to lose.”
The game started on a sour note for the Rebels as Dylan Cozens cashed a drop pass from Calen Addison 6:01 in, and just 22 seconds later Leschyshyn converted a power-play rebound after netminder Ethan Anders had made a save on Jordy Bellerive.
But the Rebels struck back when Johnson busted in alone and whipped a shot over the glove hand of Lethbridge goalie Carl Tetachuk just prior to the midway point of the period.
“You better battle back. It’s Game 67 of the season and you’re at home,” said Sutter.
“We took a penalty off the faceoff at centre ice (a hooking call to Dawson Barteaux that led to Leschyshyn’s power-play marker). That shouldn’t happen, but we responded the right way and got back in the game.”
Johnson got the Rebels back on even terms with a man-advantage goal 5:18 into the second period. As the trailer on a two-on-one that featured Jeff de Witt and Chris Douglas, Johnson banged home a rebound.
From there, Leschyshyn scored from short range at 12:58 and Johnson replied 43 seconds later, pouncing on a loose puck at the side of the net.
“You’re even up going into the third, you have to find a way to win, not find a way to lose,” said Sutter. “Again, a mistake cost us the game.”
Still, there were plenty of positives to take out of the contest for the Rebels.
“I thought the boys played well for the most part,” said Johnson. “We worked hard but made a couple plays that can’t be made at this time of the year . . . too many odd-man rushes.
“But I think we had a pretty good effort tonight.”
The trio of goals boosted Johnson’s total to 27 and represented his third hat trick of the season.
“I credit my linemates (Brandon Hagel and Cam Hausinger),” he said. “They’re fun to play with.”
The Rebels will close out their regular season slate with a meaningless game Sunday afternoon versus the host Kootenay Ice. It will be the final WHL contest played in Cranbrook with the team relocating to Winnipeg.
Notable: Anders made 29 saves, two more than Tetachuk . . . Attendance at the Centrium was 4,927 . . . Selected as the three stars were (1) Johnson, (2) Leschyshyn and (3) Addison . . . Johnson was a two-time recipient as the Rebels season awards were presented prior to the game. The captain was presented with ATB Financial humanitarian award and the Red Deer Advocate players’ award. Hagel picked up a trio of awards as the club’s top scorer (Hampton Inn & Suites), the team’s most valuable player (Communications Group) and the winner of the Booster Juice 3-star award. Alex Alexeyev was recognized as the Laebon Homes top defenceman, Zak Smith was honoured with the most under-rated player award (Darcy Robinson Memorial) and Oleg Zaytzsev was presented with the Big 105/The Drive top rookie honour.