April 17th, 2024

Tigers bounce back from double OT loss for series split with Rebels

By JAMES TUBB on April 2, 2024.

NEWS PHOTO JAMES TUBB Medicine Hat Tigers goaltender Zach Zahara reaches out his blocker to make a save in the first period of a 3-1 Game 2 win Saturday over the Red Deer Rebels at Co-op Place.


There have been times this WHL season the Medicine Hat Tigers have had ‘lessons losses’ that took weeks to apply. In their first weekend of playoff action, it took less than 24 hours.

After turning a four-goal lead into a gut-punch of a 5-4 double overtime Game 1 loss Friday, the Tigers answered back with one of their best efforts of the season, beating Red Deer 3-1 Saturday to take Game 2 and even up the first-round series against the Rebels at 1-1.

Medicine Hat led Red Deer 4-0 early in the second period of Game 1 before the Rebels rattled off five unanswered goals for the win, with forward Kalan Lind scoring the game winner 1:15 into the double overtime frame. Saturday, they led 3-0 after 20 minutes and held on as the Rebels scored in the third and made a comeback bid that fell short.

Head coach Willie Desjardins liked his team’s efforts in both contests and he liked their ability to weather the storm in the third period of Game 2.

“We knew they were going to come so we had to be prepared,” Desjardins said. “Both nights they put on a push late, we just don’t have that experience yet. But our guys are young and they’ll get better at it. That playoff hockey is kind of different and our guys are growing.”

It’s their youthfulness that Desjardins says they’ll work through as the series goes on and they continue to learn what they should and shouldn’t do in certain situations of the game.

“We did a good job the first two periods (Saturday), then we kind of faded a little bit in the third, no reason,” Desjardins said. “We made a play back where we had a D join in the rush, we’re up 3-0 and we probably don’t need to join. Let’s take the puck to the net rather than put it someplace where they can turn it.

“We put it someplace and they turned it on. So those are young mistakes you make and we just have to learn.”

The Tigers’ youngest forward, Gavin McKenna, leads the team in scoring through two games with two goals and two assists. He says they made an effort Saturday to remain in the present more, keeping themselves from being deflated following the lengthy Game 1 loss.

“Just stay in the present, take it shift by shift,” McKenna said. “We’re the better conditioned team than them and we’ve been doing our best to wear them down all series, and it came into play (Saturday). That’s why we came out on top.”

Medicine Hat got a boost to their lineup before the series got underway Friday, with Cayden Lindstrom returning to action for the first time since Dec. 16. He’s been away from the team while recovering from a hand injury suffered in their first skate back from Christmas and while rehabbing a back ailment.

The 18-year-old recorded an assist Friday and redirected a goal on a power play Saturday, extending his point streak, which dates back to the first half of the season, to 14 games.

Lindstrom, in his second game since Christmas, was all smiles after the game Saturday 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.

Ethan McCallum started Friday’s game for the Tigers, making 29 saves. Zach Zahara was between the pipes Saturday, turning aside 30 shots. Desjardins wouldn’t say who they’ll turn to for Game 3.

“We’ll wait to see until we get to Game 3, but (Zach) was really good.”

Both teams excelled on the penalty through the first two games of the now best-of-five series, with Medicine Hat’s kill running at 90 per cent and the Rebels at 87.5 per cent.

Saturday’s playoff win was the Tigers’ first postseason victory since 2019, a series they lost 4-2 to the Edmonton Oil Kings. The road for their first series win since 2017 starts in Red Deer tonight and Wednesday for Games 3 and 4.

Medicine Hat was 2-1 at Red Deer’s Peavy Mart Centrium this season. The Rebels had the 10th best attendance average in the league, with 4,278 fans per their 34 home games.

It’s a rink captain Tyler MacKenzie grew up in and is ready to return to, looking to leave with a series lead.

“It’s pretty exciting going back home 1-1,” MacKenzie said. “I know I have the guys behind me and lots of family and friends are going to be in the building. So I’m excited, no better feeling than to try and get a win there.”

Game 5 of the series is Friday back at Co-op Place. If needed, Game 6 would be Sunday and a decisive Game 7 would be April 9 in Medicine Hat.

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