The Brandon Wheat Kings have gone through a lot of adversity this season.
Despite trading away two of their top players, enduring a nine-game losing streak, dropping the first two games of the first round and trailing 2-0 three separate times, the Wheat Kings pulled through.
Yesterday, they trailed 2-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal and won. Needing a win to even the series, Game 4 could not have started on a worse note, as the Wheat Kings fell 7-4 to the Lethbridge Hurricanes at Westoba Place.
So far, through one and a half rounds, two teams have been tasked with the role of slowing down Brad Morrison of the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
So far, through four games with the Wheat Kings and five with the Rebels, no one has accomplished the task.
Not wanting to see his team head down the same road as the Medicine Hat Tigers, Morrison toe-dragged around Connor Gutenberg, made a subtle shoulder shake and opened up enough space to slide a backhand through Dylan Myskiw’s five-hole.
Four minutes later, the Hurricanes turned the puck over at their blue line and broke out on a three-on-one. Morrison sent a backhand saucer pass from the right wing to Jake Elmer in the centre of the ice, as he roofed his third of the postseason on the backhand.
Three minutes later, Dylan Cozens finished off a Jordy Bellerive give-and-go play in front of the net that started with a Taylor Ross steal at centre ice.
Wheat Kings Head Coach David Anning called timeout after seeing his team fall down 3-0 on six shots from the Hurricanes.
But whatever tactics or calming mechanisms he put in place didn’t work, as Morrison found the back of the net 1:26 after the timeout.
Elmer poked the puck up to Morrison who had a clean look in the heart of the slot and wired one past Myskiw.
If history served as a lesson for the Wheat Kings, they knew that 4-0 leads are no longer safe.
That theory was proven once again in the second period, as the Wheat Kings came out and made things close.
Linden McCorrister took a long stretch pass from Schael Higson at the Hurricanes blue line, cut across the line and flipped a pass over to Marcus Sekundiak. Sekundiak didn’t wait for the puck to settle and swatted in the bouncing piece of rubber for his fifth of the postseason.
The fourth line of Ben McCartney, Sekundiak and Rylan Bettens is now up to 11 points this playoff run.
Shortly after, Ty Lewis was hauled down on a breakaway by Matthew Stanley and was awarded a penalty shot. Shooting blocker side, Lewis could not solve Logan Flodell.
Off a Lewis offensive zone faceoff win, the 16-year-old Braden Schneider carried the puck from the blue line down to the goal line before spotting Luka Burzan in front, who needed a pair of whacks to jam home his fifth of the playoffs to cut the Hurricane lead in half.
Five minutes later on a delayed penalty for a hit behind the play, the Wheat Kings capitalized with the extra man on the ice. Mattheos looked to head up to the top of the zone, but cut back to the net around the left faceoff circle and ripped one past Flodell’s blocker at the 12:18 mark.
Daniel Bukac and Zach Wytinck collided in their own zone trying to clear a puck with less than five minutes remaining in the second period. The Humboldt native Logan Barlage picked up the loose puck and found Zane Franklin on the other post for his first goal of the playoffs and restored a two-goal lead.
Frustration began to boil over in the closing minutes of the frame, as the two teams stuffed eight players into the sin bin.
The Wheat Kings came out in the third strong with Mattheos ringing one off the iron in the first minute.
Going the other way was Elmer, who undressed Chase Hartje before dangling Myskiw and sliding the puck five-hole for his second of the game.
Not going away easily were the Wheat Kings and Lewis. Along the boards, Lewis fired a shot on net that was initially stopped by Flodell for one of his 25 saves on the evening. Flodell couldn’t corral the rebound, as Lewis tracked his shot, found the rebound around the mouth of the goal and stuffed in his sixth of the playoffs.
The Wheat Kings were building pressure throughout the third period.
All of that came to a halt when Lewis got called for charging with seven minutes remaining. All game, Calen Addison, a Brandon product, was jawing with Wheat King players during play and after the whistle. Lewis just simply had enough.
The Wheat Kings penalty kill was perfect for the first time this series, killing off both Hurricane opportunities.
Shortly after the big kill, it was Barlage, who finished off a centring pass from Egor Zudilov with 2:58 remaining in regulation.
Last series, the Wheat Kings were able to storm back from a 2-0 deficit to clip the Tigers. Now, they will have a bigger challenge on their hands as they now need to win out to keep their season alive.
The first chance for the Hurricanes to eliminate the Wheat Kings will be Friday at the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. (MDT).
Should the Wheat Kings force a Game 6, the series would shift back to the Westoba Place April 15.