The Red Deer Rebels unlikely push for a playoff spot continues.
Wednesday night, they picked up a 3-2 shootout win over the Calgary Hitmen in front of a small but mighty crowd that fought off the snow to be at the Enmax Centrium.
“It wasn’t beautiful, but it was two big points. [You] find a way to get points, and that’s important,” commented Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter.
Once 14 points back of a playoff spot, the Rebels are now just four points behind third place Kootenay in the WHL Central Division standings. The Ice fell 4-3 to Prince Albert on Wednesday, their fifth loss in a row.
Calgary struck first versus the Rebels 2:49 into the first period as Connor Chaulk tipped one past Rebels goalie Ethan Anders.
Red Deer replied with 1:32 remaining in the opening period. Mason McCarty unleashed a rocket from the slot, beating Hitmen netminder Nick Schneider for his team-leading 27th goal of the season.
The Rebels took their first lead of the game 13:37 into period two as Chris Douglas went top shelf for his fifth goal of the year, extending his point streak to four games in the process.
The Hitmen responded less than two minutes later, however, as Tristen Nielsen beat on Anders for a shorthanded goal. Video review was needed to determine whether the shot went in or rang off the crossbar.
Late in the third period, the Rebels found themselves in penalty trouble as they incurred back-to-back delay of game infractions. But the Rebels penalty killing unit, which has been stellar over the last few weeks, got the job done both times. They also got a bit of puck luck as Calgary rang a pair of shots off the crossbar and post.
Grayson Pawlenchuk won the opening faceoff of overtime and went in on a breakaway only to be denied by a great save by Schneider. That ended up being the best scoring chance of the three-on-three period.
“We did a good a job with overtime. I thought our focus was better and we handled our man to man better,” Sutter said afterward.
In the shootout, Kristian Reichel shot first for the Rebels. He ripped a shot that bounced off the goal post, hit Schneider in the back and rolled into the Hitmen net. The goal stood up as the game winner as the Rebels earned the extra point.
“We got a break. There is no question. It was certainly a lucky goal but sometimes you get your luck. You earn it,” Sutter suggested. “Maybe the last couple weeks we have earned some luck here and there.”
Final shots on goal in this game ended up 40-31 in favour of Red Deer, marking just the 16th time this season the Rebels have outshot an opponent. The Rebels were 1/4 on the power play while holding Calgary to 0/2.
The Rebels are back in action Friday night at the Enmax Centrium versus Edmonton (7 p.m. on 106.7 The Drive).
Sutter says star defenceman Alexander Alexeyev, who has spent the past three weeks in Russia following the death of his mother, will return to Red Deer on Thursday. He will practice with the team Friday and likely will be a game time decision.
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