The Indy Fuel’s recent winning streak has put them in a great position – an opportunity to play key four-point games for play0ff position.
Consider test No. 1 passed.
Kyle Stroh tipped in a centering pass from Nick Bruneteau 26.5 seconds left in overtime to give the Fuel a 2-1 victory over the Kalamazoo Wings Sunday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, giving the Fuel a sweep of the three weekend games and a fourth straight victory.
The Fuel have now won 12 of their last 14 games, going 12-1-1 in that stretch, but today’s was one of the biggest, as it marked a matchup between Indy and a team directly ahead of it in the playoff structure. The OT victory allowed the Fuel to gain a key point on the K-Wings, and two points on idle Cincinnati. Indy remains in sixth place, but is just one point back of fifth-place Wheeling, two back of Kalamazoo in fourth place, and three behind Cincinnati in third. The Fuel face Cincinnati in a home-and-home this weekend.
“We set our sights real high,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “We said that unless we get six points, it would be a huge letdown. Today was obviously against a very good hockey club that’s been playing great hockey and winning a lot of games, so we’re really pleased.”
The contest – the third in three days for both teams – was a defensive struggle with both goaltenders, Indy’s Mac Carruth and Kalamazoo’s Joel Martin, putting forth stellar performances.
“Tonight was a tough game for both teams – it was their fourth game in five nights, our third in three nights,” Hillman said. “For that type of a weekend, both teams showed a lot of heart. We were glad to come out on top.”
In the opening period, the K-Wings hit a post six minutes in, and Carruth got a pad on a shot by Ray Kaunisto from in tight with seven minutes left. Six and a half minutes into the period, Matt White generated a strong chance for the Fuel by driving to the slot and firing a shot Martin kicked out. Dean Chelios got to the rebound, but Martin got to it, as well. Early in the second, Kirill Gotovets skated to the right circle and shot off Martin’s pad. The rebound hopped past a Fuel stick with an open side. On the other end, Ludwig Blomstrand had two excellent chances, missing high from in tight five minutes in, and getting stopped by Carruth midway through the middle frame.
Indy finally broke through with 8:20 left in the second. Rhett Bly headmanned the puck to Evan Vossen, who skated up the left side and lifted a shot over Martin’s blocker and shoulder and into the net on the short side. It was Vossen’s fifth goal of the year, and his first with the Fuel. The tally extended a stellar weekend for Vossen, who had five points in the three weekend games – a goal and four assists.
“I know him very well, and know he somehow has a knack,” Hillman said of Vossen, whom he coached with the Missouri Mavericks last season. The Fuel acquired Vossen via trade from Missouri in January. “At the end of the year, he may only have 10 goals, but eight of those 10 are huge, game-changing goals, game-winning goals or tying goals. He’s a gutsy guy that plays with a lot of heart and soul.”
Vossen had another good chance on the doorstep after a Fuel power play expired late in the second, and a shot in tight on a setup from Stroh six minutes into the third. The Fuel’s best chance in the third came five minutes in, when Garett Bembridge had a breakaway, but has he tried to deke Martin, was clipped from behind and sent tumbling.
Kalamazoo answered when Blomstrand – who had several good scoring chances for the Wings – stepped into a blast off the rush from the right side and zipped it into the top shelf to tie the game at 1-1 with 7:18 left in the third.
Stroh and Pete Massar both had chances to win it in the final two and a half minutes of regulation – Stroh drove the net and saw the puck hop in the air over Martin, but it sat in the crease and was cleared by the K-Wings. A minute later, Massar fired one from the right side on a good passing play from Mike Duco and Nicklas Lindberg. The shot broke through Martin but trickled wide.
On the game-winner, Bruneteau carried into the zone and skated up the right side. Stroh filled the middle lane unchecked and went straight to the net. Bruneteau crossed the puck from the boards to the netmouth, and Stroh tipped it in off the backhand for the game-winner.
“He’s the definition of what we acquired him to be – a center that goes to the net,” Hillman said. “Those are hard goals. You’ve got to be fearless to go to the back door like that and get a stick on the puck.”
“Honestly, I was thinking about changing, and I saw the guy was pretty flat-footed and I tried to beat him to the net,” Stroh said. “Bruno made a good pass and I got a stick on it and it went in.”
Carruth stopped 23 of the 24 Kalamazoo shots. Martin also made 23 saves, as the Fuel outshot the Wings 25-24. Kalamazoo was 0-2 on the PP, Indy was 0-3.
The Fuel are now 18-22-7 on the season.
- Kyle Stroh (Fuel) GWG, +2
- Mac Carruth (Fuel) 23 saves, win
- Evan Vossen (Fuel) goal
- The Fuel and Kalamazoo will get pretty familiar with each other in the near future. Today was the second game between the two teams – the first was the Fuel’s third game of the year – but they’ll meet four more times before the season ends, including the next meeting Feb. 25 in Indy.
- Indy and Kalamazoo can’t be any closer. They’ve played twice, and split two OT decisions.
- Nick Bruneteau snapped a four-game scoreless streak with the assist on the game-winner. He leads the Fuel with 22 assists. “Incredible passer, and his confidence is growing,” Hillman said. “He’s really becoming an elite defenseman in this league.”
- Both Fuel goals came off the rush and the team generated a lot of its scoring chances off the rush, but they see a chance for more, while the Fuel were building off Kalamazoo’s heavy forecheck. A lot of the K-Wings’ chances came off the cycle in tight, while Indy’s chances came off the rush. “They love to grab pucks and rip it toward the net,” Hillman said. “They come with a really aggressive forecheck. We wanted to try to weather that storm, get free in transition and get going on the rush. For the most part, we did pretty well. We had bodies tired, brains tired, so I think we reacted pretty well.”
- Stroh scored seven goals in 32 games with Rapid City before being dealt to Indy. Sunday’s game-winner was his ninth in 16 games with the Fuel – including his second OT winner. He has tallied points in 11 of his last 13 games. “I never expected to be putting up these kinds of numbers,” Stroh said. “It’s great and I hope I can continue doing that. The change of scenery was good for me. Hopefully, we just keep grinding wins out. We’re trying to make a push and we’re headed in the right direction.”
- Vossen has been an offensive stalwart this weekend. He’s played on a couple of different lines, but put up five points. Tonight was his first goal with the Fuel, and his first since Dec. 27, when playing with Missouri. Vossen now has five goals this season.
- The Fuel have now won three straight OT games, and four straight games that have gone past regulation.
- Indy has now allowed three goals or less for 14 straight games (and two goals or less in 11 of them). That’s a pretty good reason for the 12-1-1 stretch. Carruth allowed one goal (or less) for the sixth time in eight starts, and has now won nine straight starts.
Evan Vossen-Kyle Stroh-Garett Bembridge
Mike Duco-Nicklas Lindberg-Pete Massar
Dean Chelios-Matt White-Rhett Bly
Dan Ford-Anders Franzon
Sam Posa-Nick Bruneteau
Kirill Gotovets-Justin Holl
BU: Shane Owen
Scratches: Garrett Klotz, Vincent Arseneau (susp)
Roster moves: The Fuel activated Anders Franzon from the reserve list. Also, defenseman Nick Jones was recalled by the AHL Worcester Sharks, and emergency backup Jason Torf was released after dressing Saturday night. The ECHL announced Vincent Arseneau was suspended pending review and would miss at least today’s game after receiving a charging major in Saturday’s win over Evansville.
Next up: The Fuel have a home-and-home with the Cincinnati Cyclones this weekend, starting with a Friday tilt in the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincy, before a Valentine’s Day date at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.