'Hull' of a game
CRASH CAMERON, QMI Agency
|Players mill around the front of Red Deer goaltender Darcy Kuemper as the zebras move in to separate them Friday in Red Deer. (Ryan Frankson, Special to QMI Agency)
EDMONTON - RED DEER — Who does the kid think he is? Brett Hull?
They used to say that you didn’t see Hull all game — except when he was scoring a goal.
With all eyes on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Red Deer Rebels’ sniper saved his best for last to break a 3-3 tie with the Edmonton Oil Kings and send the 5,000-plus fans at the Centrium home happy with a 5-3 win and 1-0 series lead.
With two quiet assists on the Rebels’ first and third goals, Nugent-Hopkins lit it up late and large.
He staged the Nugent-Hopkins Show from the slot, two wristers went shelf at 14:25 and 15:31.
The winner came off a two-on-one. Tracking back, Kings defenceman Adrian Van de Mosselaer lined up an open-ice hit on Andrej Kudrna, but the slick Slovak (a goal and two assists) dodged the D-man enough as he found Nugent-Hopkins.
“Andrej battled back after getting hit there, made the second effort and found me on the back door,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “It was a really nice feed.
Then No. 9 could have been awarded a third assist on the fifth goal, finishing his give-and-go on a power play.”
Sometimes all you can do is shake your head.
“You make a mistake and they capitilize on it,” said Oil Kings head cach Derek Laxdal. “You give Nugent-Hopkins an inch, he’s going to take a mile. And he was the difference in the game.”
“That’s what good players do,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin. “You rely on your best players and they came through for us (Friday) night.”
The third period was like the whole game had been — high-tempo, hard-hitting, back-and-forth, with chances at both ends.
Knotted at 3
After Kings winger Kristians Pelss couldn’t stuff one, Mark Pysyk sent the rebound wide past Red Deer goalie Darcy Kuemper. But Michael St. Croix got it done on the next shift. A sneaky hesitation set up Alex Petrovic as a screen to get it over Kuemper’s glove to tie it at 3-3 at 11:08.
But Wallin wasn’t exactly smiling during his post-game interview.
After a nervous start, the Oil Kings not only got back into the game, but looked ready to change it all around. They outshot the Rebels 19-4 in the second period.
“I hate to say we were fortunate. But going into the third with the game still tied (2-2) … we just got back to work and were playing with a little more composure.”
Byron Froese and a nice individual effort by Brett Ferguson were the home goals.
Cameron Abney punched home a puck that fell under and behind Kuemper to tie it in the second after a Keegan Lowe one-timer from the circles in the first period to make it 2-1 Rebels.
“Our kids came out and battled hard,” said Laxdal. “For many of them it was their first playoff game. But at the end of the day …”