By Greg Meachem, Black Press
The Red Deer Rebels ended their regular season last Saturday before learning the identity of their first-round Western Hockey League playoff opponent.
“It took 72 games to find out,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter, whose club completed a 5-1 loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings at Rexall Place about 20 minutes before Anthony Bardaro’s shootout goal gave the Prince Albert Raiders a 4-3 win over the visiting Saskatoon Blades.
With the win, the Raiders clinched fifth place in the Eastern Conference — two points clear of the Swift Current Broncos — and will be at the Centrium this Friday and Saturday for the first two games of a best-of-seven conference quarter-final against the fourth-place Rebels. Games 3 and 4 will go the following Tuesday and Wednesday at Prince Albert.
The Rebels, it could be argued, will be slight favourites in the quarter-final after winning the regular-season series with the Raiders 2-1-1.
“All of the games were good, hard-fought games,” Sutter said. “Prince Albert has some real good offensive players, but I think we match up well against them. You have to expect it to be a heck of a series.”
The Rebels closed out their regular season on a negative note Saturday. The visitors, though, were still in the game after 40 minutes despite being minus the services of six of their top players, including netminder Patrik Bartosak, who served as Bolton Pouliot’s backup.
“We had a real good first period, then in the second they pushed us pretty hard and we just didn’t get a whole lot of momentum going our way,” Sutter said. “We weren’t great at moving the puck and they seemed to play a lot of the period in our end.”
The clubs were tied 1-1 after 20 minutes, with Cole Benson scoring for the Oil Kings in front of a loud crowd of 16,370, and Tyson Ness replying for the Rebels. Trevor Cheek and Curtis Lazar staked the home side to a 3-1 lead with second-period goals and Edgars Kulda and Mitch Moroz, on the power play, sealed the deal with goals 62 seconds apart early in the third.
“When you’re up against a real good team with five of your top players not dressed and your No. 1 goalie not playing, you’re thinking that it’s going to catch up to you at some point,” Sutter said.