The Indy Fuel’s recipe for success keeps producing.
Timely goaltending, strong play around the net on the offensive end, and a bit of resiliency have added up to a seven-game winning streak.
Wednesday’s win featured two goals in 1:17 and later, a rally back from a late game-tying goal by Gwinnett, as Pete Massar scored the game-winner 2:24 into overtime, giving the Fuel a 3-2 victory over the Gwinnett Gladiators.
Not only has Indy won seven straight games, the Fuel have gone nine games without a regulation loss, an 8-0-1 stretch that has seen the team pile up 17 of a possible 18 points, and move to within four points of a playoff spot in the ECHL’s North Division.
It was a second straight OT win, and a pretty resilient one for the Fuel. Sunday night in Evansville, Indy scored a late goal to tie and then won on the first shift of overtime. On Wednesday, the Fuel gave up the tying goal with 2:14 left, then rallied to win. It was indicative of the team’s turnaround.
“We’ve got a completely different mentality,” Massar said. “Earlier in the year, if we went down a goal, our night was probably pretty much in the books. Now, we have the confidence to fight back. We’ve been doing it consistently. We didn’t have a great start, we picked it up.
“We’re finding a way to win, sometimes when we’re not playing our best. That’s what championship teams need to do.”
The game-winner came off an offensive-zone draw halfway through overtime. Nicklas Lindberg, one of the Fuel’s veterans, corralled the puck after the draw against Gwinnett’s Casey Pierro-Zabotel and fired a pass to Massar back-door for a tap-in that gave the Fuel the victory.
It was Massar’s sixth goal of the season. He said Lindberg signaled him to go to the far post and he just “stood back-door and tapped it in.”
“That guy who was just Player of the Week (Pierro-Zabotel) was just dominating all of us on faceoffs, and Lindberg made a real veteran play,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “He knew he wasn’t going to beat him, so he just gave him a little push and told Massar to go right to the net.”
Lindberg assisted on all three Fuel goals. He skated between Vincent Arseneau and Garett Bembridge, and was involved in all three tallies. Lindberg had one shot, but Arseneau had six and Bembridge eight, and each scored a goal.
“We had a good chat today and said ‘keep doing what you’re doing and you’re going to get rewarded,'” Hillman said of Lindberg. “We changed the lines around a little bit and he had a big night for us.”
Fuel goaltender Mac Carruth was sterling with 31 saves and allowing two goals. It was his sixth straight victory, and sixth straight game allowing two or fewer goals. He made a couple of 10-bell saves, stuffing Dyson Stevenson with a glove save on a shot from the crease a minute into the third, and also grabbing a shot by old friend Will MacDonald early in the game.
“We weren’t good early on and he held us in there,” Hillman said of Carruth. “In my opinion, that was one of his better performances of the year. They’ve all been good lately, but that one was just brilliant.”
Arseneau’s goal came with the Fuel down 1-0 with 5:11 to go in the second. Nick Bruneteau held the puck in at the point and fed Lindberg, whose shot was corralled by Bembridge behind the net. A quick pass found Arseneau in front for a tip-in over the pad.
Arseneau now has three goals and two assists in eight games with the Fuel, and he’s had several games with five-plus shots on goal, including Wednesday’s contest. He nearly had two more goals in the third, with a curl-and-drag move midway through that got him to the doorstep that drew a pad save on both the initial shot and the rebound. With 1:10 to go, he narrowly missed a tip-in that would’ve put the Fuel ahead.
“He’s a leader. That’s part of the reason we wanted Arseneau so bad, because we knew there was some chemistry there with Bembridge,” Hillman said, noting that the two played together last year for the CHL’s Denver Cutthroats. “Arseneau was one of the first guys we wanted but he was under AHL contract. You can see why he’s a valuable player in this league. He’s a hard-nosed player and it’s great to see him get rewarded for going to the net.”
Just over a minute after Arseneau’s goal, the Fuel went on the power play when J.P. LaBardo was called for boarding. With the defensemen trying to distort Gwinnett’s penalty-killing box, Lindberg rotated to the center point and found a seam to fire a shot on net. It broke through goaltender Kent Patterson, and Bembridge jumped on the loose puck before Patterson could, and buried his 16th goal of the season to give Indy a 2-1 lead.
Indy had two power plays in the third to try to extend the lead, but Gwinnett tied it with 2:14 left, when Brandon Walker broke free in front of the net and rifled home a shot to tie the game at 2-2.
In the first, Indy had a few chances after an early power play – Bembridge tried to jam one in from in front, and later had a one-timer opportunity. But Gwinnett outshot the Fuel 15-8 in the opening period and took a 1-0 lead on a 5-on-3 on Greg Carey’s 10th goal.
The Fuel are now 14-21-7 on the season, and with 35 points, are four points back of fourth-place Kalamazoo. Indy is now seven points ahead of seventh-place Evansville.
- Pete Massar (Fuel) GWG
- Garett Bembridge (Fuel) G, A, 8 shots
- Mac Carruth (Fuel) 31 saves, 2GA, win
- Lindberg had been scoreless for eight games, but came away with his first multi-point game of the year and his first point since his debut game of the season on Jan. 9.
- With a goal and an assist, Bembridge now has tallied a point in five straight games, and scored a goal in four straight. In the last seven games, he now has four goals, three assists and is +5.
- Nick Bruneteau notched his team-best 20th assist of the year. He’s also been a solid shot-blocker. In the last five games, he has three assists and is +4, including +2 from Wednesday night. “When we watched him throughout his last couple of years of college, he didn’t have any numbers, but we had a feeling he’d be a big numbers guy in this league, the way the game is played,” Hillman said. “That’s why we went pretty hard after him this summer. He learned his stripes. He’s made a lot of adjustments to his game.”
- Kyle Stroh saw his point streak snapped at 7, but had a solid game with four shots on goal.
- Massar started the overtime period on the ice with Kyle Stroh, and later collected the game-winner in the 4-on-4 play. On Saturday, in his last game, he had an assist in a brief 4-on-4 situation. “I like having the puck on my stick. I’m more of a shifty guy. I like to make plays,” Massar said. “With 4-on-4, there’s a lot of room out there. With the size of the players, there’s not a lot of room 5-on-5, but 4-on-4 opens it up a bit. It’s nice to have a little more space”
- In Massar’s last seven games, he has two goals, two assists and is +3, and has been playing a solid two-way game. “He has better offensive instincts than a lot of players, and he hasn’t had a big offensive year yet,” Hillman said. “At times, we’ve wanted more from him and he knows that. He’s a guy that again we believed there was offensive potential even though the numbers were there (in college). He wasn’t good defensively early on, but now you look at him on video and he’s one of the most sound defensive players we have.”
- Not only did Massar score the game-winner, he also engaged former teammate Travis Ouellette in a first-period fight after drawing a boarding minor from Ouellette. It was Massar’s second fighting major of the season.
- One of the more unheralded parts of the night was containing one of the league’s top scorers – Casey Pierro-Zabotel, who came into the game with 45 points. For the second time in as many weeks, he was held off the scoresheet. He had just one shot on goal.
- Gwinnett’s Greg Carey had one heck of a first period. He had the game’s first goal, but also had nine shots in the opening 20 minutes. He finished the game with 11 of the Gladiators’ 33 shots on goal.
Lindberg and Stroh swapped lines and the Fuel made a couple of other moves.
Vincent Arseneau-Nicklas Lindberg-Garett Bembridge
Dean Chelios-Kyle Stroh-Pete Massar
Evan Vossen-Matt White-Rhett Bly
Dillon Fourner-Justin Holl
Dan Ford-Nick Jones
Sam Posa-Nick Bruneteau
BU: Shane Owen
Roster moves: The Fuel placed D Kirill Gotovets and D Anders Franzon on reserve, and activated Pete Massar and Garrett Klotz for Wednesday’s game.
Next up: The Fuel take on the Reading Royals on Friday night. The puck drops at 7:35 p.m. Reading was a 7-2 winner over Evansville on Wednesday. Saturday’s opponent, Elmira, opened its road swing by beating Cincinnati 4-2 Wednesday.