The Indy Fuel were just a couple of minutes away from a weekend sweep over Cincinnati and the first shutout in the team’s history.
But a power play goal out of a scramble tied the game, setting up David MacDonald’s overtime winner through a screen, giving the Cincinnati Cyclones a 2-1 victory over the Fuel Saturday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The Fuel took three of a possible four points on the weekend, and gained ground on the division foes they’re chasing for playoff position.
Fuel goaltender Mac Carruth made 22 saves in a strong performance, while Cincinnati’s Sam Brittain stopped 32 shots to get the win.
“Disappointed in the result tonight, but it was a great game. In all aspects, it was the best defensive effort we’ve seen,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “Sometimes, a team that plays better doesn’t win the hockey game. Tonight was one of those nights. We had more quality scoring chances. Unfortunately, they found two two the back of the net and we got stymied a bit. We had some breakaways and some chances.”
MacDonald’s goal came at 1:59 of the extra session, a shot from the left point that found its way through heavy traffic and into the top of the net, allowing Cincinnati to escape with the victory in a game where the Fuel carried the play for much of the night – especially in the final two periods.
Cincinnati’s Zach Budish tied the game with 2:08 to go on the power play. The puck was loose in a host of bodies in front of the net – too far for goalie Mac Carruth to cover it, but Budish was able to get his stick on the puck and score.
“We got a little too eager to move to the outside on the penalty kill,” Hillman said. “They got someone on the inside of us and unfortunately, he got that shot through. It was a good power play goal. We were aggressive, and we’ve been aggressive on the PK.”
The game started with the Fuel PK setting the tone – Indy killed off four penalties in the opening period, and saw Carruth stuff Cincinnati’s Kevin Sullivan on a breakaway late in the period. With 2:40 to go, Klarc Wilson was whistled for a double-minor, but the Indy penalty kill delivered nearly all of the pressure on the minor, forcing Cincinnati goaltender Sam Brittain to come up big. Mike Duco forced a turnover and gave Matt White a strong chance on a 2-on-1. A steal and nifty move at the blueline freed Garett Bembridge for a breakaway, but Brittain was able to reach and stop the puck.
Indy killed off the penalty and seized momentum going into the second period. The Fuel were 5-6 on the PK in the game.
“The penalty kill was a big plus – a big, big plus,” Hillman said. “We had those chances – sure, if you bury a shorthanded goal, it almost puts the game away. We had quality chances. Unfortunately, we gave up a power play goal. As well as we were playing on the PK, that was a little disappointing, but there are a lot of things moving in the right direction for us.”
The opportunity came on the Fuel’s first power play of the game midway through the period, when Cincinnati’s Tom Serratore was whistled for high-sticking Carruth. Twenty-nine sconds into the man advantage, the Fuel worked the puck to the corner, where Dean Chelios fed Robert Czarnik at the left point. His far-post shot went right to Mike Duco’s stick in front of the net, where Duco redirected it into the open side to give Indy a 1-0 lead with 11:39 to go in the second.
From there, Brittain kept it a one-goal game. In addition to the two strong saves he made shorthanded, he snared a top-corner bid by Rhett Bly and a tip by Duco late in the period, then robbed Bembridge on a wraparound chance, Patrick Cullen from the top of the crease and White on a shot that looked destined for the left-side netting in the opening half of the third period.
“We had five or six more plays like (the goal), and unfortunately, we either hit the goalie or he made a tremendous save, but that’s hockey,” Hillman said. “Other sports don’t have a goalie that can make a difference as much as in hockey. We put a lot of quality rubber on him.”
From there, the goaltenders stole the show. Carruth made 22 saves in a hard-luck defeat. He had to make three saves in quick succession on the doorstep midway through the second, then stuffed Budish on a 2-on-1 three minutes later.
“Awesome. Two great nights, battling, seeing the puck better, reacting,” Hillman said of Carruth’s game. “We’re playing better in front of him these last two games. In the past, we’ve left our goalies out to dry. It’s time to start paying them back.”
The Fuel are now 6-16-6. They next play Wednesday at Fort Wayne, then return home to meet Toledo and Reading on Friday and Saturday.
- David MacDonald (CIN) GWG
- Mike Duco (IND) G
- Sam Brittain (CIN) 32 saves, win
- The Fuel’s newcomer, defenseman Sam Posa, had a solid game in his own end. He played for coach Scott Hillman last year in Missouri. “He’s probably blocked more shots in two nights than any other individual, maybe outside Bruneteau, on the whole year. That’s the kind of defense you need to win games and consistently be a better defensive team.”
- Indy also turned in one of its best defensive efforts – if not its best defensive effort – of the season, and had two solid back-to-back defensive games. “Anytime you’re putting together back-to-back nights of giving up under 25 shots in this league, that’s very difficult to do,” Hillman said. “Posa blocks 5 or 6 shots a night, if our other D start doing that, we’ll start doing that consistently.”
- With the three-point weekend, Indy was able to gain a little bit of ground on the teams ahead of it in the standings. The Fuel are now just six points out of a playoff spot, and four points back of both Kalamazoo and Evansville. “We’ve got to kick and scratch and start filling in this hole we’ve dug for ourselves,” Hillman said. “If we keep getting three out of four (points) – that’s a tough feat, but we’ve got to take it one game at a time. We’ve got a lot of hockey ahead of us.”
- After being shot 8-4 in the first period – with two of those shots coming late – the Fuel dominated the second period and much of the third. Indy held a 17-8 shot advantage in the second, and a significant edge in territory and chances. In the third, the Fuel outshot Cincinnati 11-6.
- The trio of Garett Bembridge-Patrick Cullen-Pete Massar provided a lot of offensive chances. The trio combined for 18 of the Fuel’s 33 shots – Bembridge had eight, Massar seven and Cullen three.
- After an emotional game on Friday that featured a number of altercations (and a fine announced Saturday by the ECHL to Cincinnati’s Josh McFadden), Saturday’s game was just good, solid hockey with just one altercation – Indy’s Johnny McGuire and McFadden fought in the first period, with McGuire winning the bout handily by taking McFadden down.
- With an assist on Duco’s goal, Czarnik now has points in five of his last six games, and had three for the weekend. Duco has points in two of his last three. With the secondary assist, Chelios tallied his first point since Dec. 17 against Reading.
Johnny McGuire & Dean Chelios were in the lineup on Saturday, replacing Kirill Gotovets & Garrett Klotz from Friday’s lineup. Otherwise, everything’s the same.
Mike Duco-Robert Czarnik-Rhett Bly
Garett Bembridge-Patrick Cullen-Pete Massar
Johnny McGuire/Dean Chelios-Matt White-Klarc Wilson
Dan Ford-Justin Holl
Dillon Fournier-Mathieu Brisebois
Sam Posa-Nick Bruneteau
B: Cody Reichard
Next up: The Fuel have a three-game week coming up, with a New Year’s Eve trip to Fort Wayne followed by home games against Toledo (Friday) and Reading (Saturday). Saturday’s game will be Chicago Blackhawks night, and feature an appearance by Blackhawks & Winnipeg Jets great Bobby Hull.