Game 49: Fuel vs. Cincinnati

The Indy Fuel’s five-game winning streak came to an end Saturday night, but the Fuel finished a home-and-home with Cincinnati largely where they began it in the playoff chase — right in the thick of things.

Indy fell 4-1 to the Cyclones Saturday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, marking just the Fuel’s second regulation loss in the last 16 games. The Fuel remain in sixth place in the ECHL’s North Division, but are two points out of a playoff spot and four points out of third place in a four-team scramble for the last two playoff spots in the division.

Indy is now 19-23-7 on the season and has 45 points.

The loss marks the last of a five-game stretch against teams from the North Division, the last three among that four-team scramble. Indy went 4-1-0 in the five games, including 2-1-0 against Kalamazoo and Cincinnati.

“Every time you play division games, you want to catch the other guys or leave them behind you,” veteran Fuel center Nicklas Lindberg said. “We’re four games out of .500 and it would be nice to get back to that, get into a playoff spot and start winning more from there so we can climb up the rankings.”

Indy’s Garett Bembridge tallied his 18th goal of the season, but Cincinnati scored the game’s first three goals and Cyclones goaltender Sam Brittain made 17 saves to notch the victory.

Stephan Vigier and Chris Reed had a goal and an assist each for Cincinnati. The Cyclones scored two goals in 18 seconds in the first period to take a 2-0 lead, and then extended it to 3-0 5:51 into the second.

“We didn’t come out that hot. The last couple of games we came out slow and we’d still play well and get away with it. You can’t let yourself get in a hole in the first period and have to battle back,” Lindberg said.

Midway through the Cyclones’ first power play of the night, Steven Hodges one-timed Josh McFadden’s cross-ice pass to the right circle into the net to put Cincy up 1-0 with 6:45 left in the first. Eighteen seconds later, the Cyclones came up-ice on a counter-rush. Geoff Irwin’s shot was initially stopped by Mac Carruth, but Stephan Vigier was able to tip the rebound into the net from in front to make it 2-0.

Christiaan Minella made it 3-0 off a faceoff, as McFadden’s point shot went wide, but the puck bounced off the back boards right to Minella at the side of the net, who tapped it in.

Bembridge’s goal came with 9:36 left in the second, nine seconds into a power play. Nick Bruneteau reversed the puck to Bembridge at the left circle for a snipe into the far-post netting.

Indy had several near-misses in an effort to cut the deficit closer. Matt White had two on the same shift with four minutes left in the second, trying to wrong-foot Brittain with a hard shot across the goalmouth from the right slot, but Brittain got a blocker on it. Thirty seconds later, White skated to the slot and fired a shot off Brittain’s pad, but Pete Massar pounced on the rebound and pushed it past Brittain, but just wide of the goal. In the third, Bembridge had two close-in chances on the power play and Evan Vossen just missed a tip-in from in front.

“We definitely had some chances,” Lindberg said. “We needed a little more intensity all over, a little better finish. It all comes with working a little harder and skating a little harder. We’ve had a good stretch here. We hate giving up points to this team. It was a four-point game, but we’ve won five games and we’ve lost one. Let’s get back to starting another streak here.”

Hillman mentioned a couple of those chances, plus a first-period chance by Massar that just missed in tight on a rebound of Vossen’s shot.

“If you can convert those three, you get lucky on a night you don’t play great. Those are the things we live with as we’re developing the core,” Fuel coach Scott Hillman said. “We’ve got to be able to grit it out, we’ve got to be sound defensively, we’ve got to move the puck. We gave up a second-chance goal off the rush. We haven’t missed a stick like that in a few weeks. There were a lot of little breakdowns, things we can look at, regroup and look at going forward.”

Indy had two third-period power plays and went 1-4 with the man advantage, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer. Chris Reed scored a late empty-netter to set the final margin.

“The effort was there. Every guy worked as hard as he could,” Hillman said. “We were just off. It was a tough night.”

ECHL boxscore
IndyFuelHockey.com story

3 stars

  1. Stephan Vigier (CIN) G, A
  2. Sam Brittain (CIN) 17 saves
  3. Garett Bembridge (Fuel) G, 5 shots

Takeaways

  1. The Fuel managed to split the weekend with Cincinnati after having been hit hard by callups in the last week. Within the last two weeks, three defensemen – Dillon Fournier, Kirill Gotovets and Nick Jones – were called up to AHL teams, which means a shuffling of the defensive corps. “We lost some pretty good puck-moving D due to callup in the last week or so. It’s tough to replace the number of touches when you’re now going into more depth guys playing more minutes and you get a new guy into the lineup. It really affects the flow, and we saw that two nights in a row for sure.”
  2. Given the way the Fuel have been playing, it’s rare to see a loss, but in the big picture, they’ll take continuing to play at the pace they’ve been playing. “We’re going to be disappointed anytime we lose, but if we can win five, lose one — that’s a tough pace to keep up. But that’s got to be our goal each time we go out, to win,” Hillman said. “We’ve got to put (tonight’s game) behind us. We’re four games under .500, we’ve got to peck away, get to .500 and beyond.”
  3. Speaking of things that are rare, tonight was the first time in 16 games the Fuel allowed more than three goals, which again goes to how stellar the team has been in the back end.
  4. Bembridge continues to give the Fuel good offense, and scored his 18th of the year tonight. It was his first goal in five games, but his second point in as many nights. Bembridge also led the team with five of the 18 shots on goal.
  5. Massar picked up the second assist on Bembridge’s goal, and now has points in seven of his last nine games.
  6. This marked the third time this season the Fuel and Cyclones have played back-to-back games against each other. In each of the three, the two teams have split the weekend. There is one more meeting left in the season, on April 3 in Cincinnati.
  7. Cincinnati goaltender Sam Brittain made his third start of the season against the Fuel, and has allowed one goal in each of the three games, all wins.
  8. As has been the case with this budding rivalry, tempers flared late in the game, as Pete Massar squared off with Cincy’s Nick Wheeler, and Mike Duco and Cincy’s David Pacan exchanged pleasantries, all in the last 30 seconds. No majors were handed out, but a number of minors and double-minors for roughing.

Lineup

Vincent Arseneau-Kyle Stroh-Garett Bembridge
Mike Duco-Nicklas Lindberg-Pete Massar
Evan Vossen-Matt White-Rhett Bly
Johnny McGuire

Sam Posa-Nick Bruneteau
Dan Ford-Justin Holl
Adam McKenzie-Anders Franzon

Mac Carruth
BU: Shane Owen

Scratches: Dean Chelios, Garrett Klotz

Next up: The Fuel travel to Elmira for back-to-back games next weekend. The next home game is Feb. 25 against Kalamazoo.