April 13th, 2024

Tigers even first-round series with 3-1 Game 2 win Saturday

By James Tubb on March 30, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB Medicine Hat Tigers forward Gavin McKenna celebrates his goal 21 seconds into the first period of a 3-1 Game 2 win Saturday at Co-op Place over the Red Deer Rebels.

The Medicine Hat Tigers can cross off a long awaited tally.

The Tigers won Game 2 Saturday night, beating the Red Deer Rebels 3-1 to even the first-round series up at 1-1. It’s the Tigers first playoff win since 2019, after two COVID-19 seasons cancelled playoffs, the 11-win season and a first-round sweep last year against the Winnipeg Ice.

Captain Tyler MacKenzie says the win is a special victory for their group and one they look to build off.

“Obviously last night super disappointed, it’s a feeling you ever want to have and  that sucked a lot to lose in double overtime after you put in all that work, it’s brutal, it sucks,” MacKenzie said. “But that’s our first playoff win as a group, that’s something really special and it’s something we’re all going to remember. Even from the group last year, that’s the first playoff win for these guys and this team, so no better feeling.”

The Tigers dropped Game 1 Friday 5-4 in double overtime, blowing a 4-0 lead after 23 minutes.

Saturday night, Medicine Hat didn’t wait long to get on the board.

Gavin McKenna fired a shot that tricked over Chase Wutzke’s arm and into the net 21 seconds into the contest. Hunter St. Martin had the lone assist on McKenna’s second of the playoffs. They outshot the Rebels 11-6 after 20 minutes. 

The Tigers added a pair of markers in the second. 

As a power play was expiring, Reid Andresen loaded up from the high slot and wired a shot that found twine for a 2-0 lead 9:22 into the middle frame. McKenna and Andrew Basha had the assists. 

They did capitalize on a power play later in the period. Basha fired a shot on net that Cayden Lindstrom redirected, putting the 4,175 in a frenzy. McKenna had the second assist on the goal that extended Lindstrom point streak, that dates back to December, to 14 games. 

Lindstrom, in his second game since Christmas, was all smiles after the game and he was happy he could find the back of the net.

“It’s been a while so it’s good to get that first one,” Lindstrom said.

Medicine Hat outshot the Rebels 23-13 through 40 minutes who poured it on in the third with comeback aspirations.

The Rebels got on the board 6:32 into the final frame with a goal from Ollie Josephson off a rush. Medicine Hat had an opportunity in the Red Deer end that turned the other way and ended up in the back of the net, making it a 3-1 game. Carson Latimer and Luke Vlooswyk had the assists.

It was the only goal Zach Zahara allowed, making 30 saves for his first playoff win in his first playoff start. Medicine Hat weathered the storm of a Rebels push, outshot 18-3 in the frame, but held on for the Game 2 win. Red Deer finished the game with 31 shots to the Tigers 26.

Head coach Willie Desjardins says they knew the Rebels would push back and liked how they handled the storm of shots. Desjardins says Zahara handled the game well late after not facing a lot of shots beforehand.

“That’s a big game for him to come in,” Desjardins said. “He didn’t have a lot of shots early, he had nothing early and made some huge saves at the end.”

Across the ice from Zahara, Wutzke made 23 saves in his second start of the series. Red Deer head coach Dave Struch says they didn’t take enough of what got them the victory in Friday into Saturday.

“Well not enough in the first two periods from us,” Struch said. “We didn’t take our experience from last night what we did for the majority of the game after the first 12 to 15 minutes. We talked about bottling it up and pouring it out tonight and we didn’t do any of that until the third period.”

The series shifts to Red Deer for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday. McKenna says they’ve had success at the Peavy Mart Centrium this season and need to continue the game plan that worked Saturday.

“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” McKenna said. “Playing within our structure, keep having everyone in the game, making sure we’re taking short shifts because it’s long series. It’s going to be a  tough building but it’s going to be lots of fun.”

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