The Indy Fuel came out flying Friday night, but then found themselves needing to kill off a five-minute power play midway through the first period – a key moment in a key game with the Fuel battling for playoff position.
Not only did the Fuel kill it off, they kept the puck in the Evansville IceMen end for most of the five minutes, and drew a power play of their own for their effort. That turnaround eventually led to the Fuel re-taking a chokehold on a game they’d never relinquish in an eventual 3-0 victory over the IceMen Friday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Mac Carruth made 21 saves in the Fuel net for his third shutout of the season.
Matt White scored the game-winning goal late in the first period, while Pete Massar and Nicklas Lindberg scored second-period tallies to lead Indy to the win.
But much of the tone was set early when the Fuel killed off a major penalty that was assessed to Garrett Klotz for boarding. Evansville got a couple of shots late in the power play, but the first three and a half minutes were largely spent chasing the puck into their own end. Early in the power play, Evansville 20-goal scorer Braden Pimm was alone in tight, but Carruth made the stop.
“That was huge,” said White, who is one of the Fuel’s top penalty-killing forwards. “It set the tone. We used a lot of guys there and every single one worked hard. You could say that was the game.”
“The boys did a really good job,” Carruth added. “It was a big momentum swing. If you only get a couple of shots, you’re obviously a little demoralized and on our side, you kill it off, you get the momentum going.”
Carruth made 21 saves, including a couple on the early Evansville power play, but the IceMen had few good looks at the net as Carruth was able to see the puck well.
“We worked on that the last few days in practice — we really took care of details,” Carruth said of clearing shooting lanes and potential screens.
“We blocked a few, and cleared the lanes for him, but he came up big, especially at the end of the first on a tight breakaway they had. It was a big night for him,” Hillman said of Carruth.
Indy came out pushing its offense – with Pete Massar having two good chances, one on a cross-ice feed off the rush by Evan Vossen going just beyond him, and the other on a shovel shot in front of the net that netted a rebound.
But moments after the penalty kill, Nick Jones led a rush up-ice that put the Fuel on the power play. It didn’t net a goal, but it did lead to Indy regaining momentum that eventually saw the Fuel take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The first goal game off the cycle, as Jones held the puck at the point and pushed it into the corner to Rhett Bly. He won a puck battle, put the disc right on White’s stick in the left circle, and he fired a far-post shot past Evansville goaltender Chris Driedger and into the net for his ninth goal of the year.
“I didn’t really do much,” White said. “Jonesy kept it in and Rhett Bly worked really hard in the corner and spun off a few guys. He made a great feed to me, and when I got it, Klotz was in front of the goalie. The goalie couldn’t see a thing.”
The second period saw the Fuel put a chokehold on the game. Nick Bruneteau nearly made it 2-0 off the opening faceoff, just missing a rebound with an open side, but 2:28 into the period, Massar drew a kneeing penalty on Pimm, putting the Fuel on the power play. Massar then cashed in, as Nick Bruneteau worked the puck from the point to Jamie Wise in the right corner. His pass across the goalmouth found Massar at the doorstep on the left side for the goal 4:12 into the second.
The power play was a point of emphasis for the Fuel, who have the ECHL’s fifth-best PP, coming in at 20.1 percent.
“It was a great pass by Wise below the goal line,” Hillman said. We’ve had other really good quality chances. We spent a lot of time this week, knowing we were up against a really good penalty kill, we want to be dangerous and get on a really good roll again, it’s going to take both sides of the special teams.”
The other side of the special teams turned out to be critical again with a “dangerous minute” goal after killing a minor later in the period. Fresh out of the box, Garett Bembridge rushed the puck up-ice. Bembridge gained the blueline and laid it across to Lindberg, who blasted a one-time slapshot from the center point right over Driedger’s glove and under the bar at 8:59 of the second, making it 3-0.
The Fuel then followed with a flurry of shots – outshooting the IceMen 16-8 in the period and 33-21 for the game.
Indy had another PP late in the second, and while it didn’t net a goal, the Fuel spent nearly the entire two minutes in the Evansville zone, and Lindberg had an in-tight chance out of the man advantage situation late.
Indy allowed just five Evansville shots in the third – none generating much danger – and generated the best scoring chances of the period, as Evan Vossen tried to curl-and-drag his way pat the goalie halfway through and Chris DeSousa just missed a tip-in on a 2-on-1.
Indy is now in a fifth-place tie in the ECHL’s North Division, and is just one point back of a playoff spot with a trip to Toledo coming up on Saturday.
“We need to keep our nose to the grindstone,” Hillman said. “There’s two huge points on the line tomorrow.”
- Mac Carruth (Fuel) 21 saves, SHO
- Matt White (Fuel) GWG
- Nicklas Lindberg (Fuel)
- This concludes the season series between the Fuel and their rivals in southwest Indiana. Year 1 goes to Indy, which finished the year 8-1-1 against the IceMen. The Fuel won the last six meetings.
- It was one of those games where the Fuel spent much of the night in the Evansville zone, and the flurry of chances were coming both off the rush and the cycle. The Fuel got one even-strength goal from the rush, one from the cycle, and had a number of scoring chances, especially in transition. “We had some good puck management,” Hillman said. “We had some good scoring chances we didn’t capitalize on off the rush, too. Those are areas we’ve been concentrating on.”
- Matt White might be disappointed to see the IceMen drop off the schedule. He has six goals and four assists in 10 games against the IceMen. Garett Bembridge and Justin Holl each tallied their seventh point against the IceMen tonight.
- The Fuel’s third period was a textbook example of how to hold a lead – Indy played with structure, dominated possession, and while the Fuel only generated five shots, they denied Evansville any big chances to preserve the shutout. A week ago, Evansville rallied from a three-goal deficit to tie the Fuel before Indy won in a shootout. “Going into the third period, we said ‘just keep playing the way you played in the first two periods, don’t let up at all, and try not to think about what happened the previous week,'” White said.
- Indy had nine different players get on the scoresheet – as good a balance as a team can have when scoring three goals. Nick Bruneteau, Nick Jones, Rhett Bly, Jamie Wise, Justin Holl and Garett Bembridge all had assists in the game. “Guys were seeing each other. We had some real good looks at the net. We’re glad more guys are getting involved in the offense. Glad to see Whitey get another one for us. We’re seeing some real good things,” Hillman said.
- Speaking of White, he now has points in three of the last four games, and goals in two of those contests.
- Nick Bruneteau’s assist on Massar’s PPG gives him 30 helpers for the season.
- The five-minute penalty kill was built on making it difficult for Evansville to enter the zone, standing the IceMen up at the blueline. “We made it tough for them to enter,” White said. “We made it hard for them to get possession, they had to dump it in, and we were winning the races to loose pucks.”
- Nicklas Lindberg extended his scoring streak to seven games with a goal – a powerful, perfectly-placed one-timed bar-down snipe from the center point that he was able to step into and blast. Lindberg has two goals and nine assists in that span, and now is 6-13-19 in 24 games with the Fuel.
- Pete Massar’s goal gave him a point in three straight games, and four of the last five. Jamie Wise, who assisted on the goal, has tallied points in all three games since joining the Fuel after a long stint in the AHL. Garett Bembridge also extended his scoring streak to three games, and has points in seven of his last eight.
- Justin Holl now has points in five of his last six games.
- Carruth’s shutout was his third of the year, and his first since a Jan. 31, 41-save blanking of Elmira. He has now won 13 of his last 15 starts.
- The 21 shots allowed by the Fuel tonight were the fewest since allowing 21 in a 5-2 win over Kalamazoo on Feb. 25.
- Rhett Bly was a game-high +2 on the night.
- Bembridge led the Fuel with five shots on goal.
Evan Vossen-Chris DeSousa-Garett Bembridge
Jamie Wise-Nicklas Lindberg-Pete Massar
Garrett Klotz-Matt White-Rhett Bly
Anders Franzon-Nick Jones
Dan Ford-Justin Holl
Saverio Posa-Nick Bruneteau
BU: Shane Owen
Scratches: Mike Duco, Johnny McGuire (reserve), Quinn Sproule (reserve)
Roster moves: The Fuel added defenseman Quinn Sproule in a trade from Alaska on Thursday in exchange for Dean Chelios. He was placed on reserve. Saverio Posa was activated from reserve for Friday’s game.
Standings watch: Wheeling beat Kalamazoo 4-1 to stay a point ahead of the Fuel, but the third-place K-Wings’ loss meant Indy drew within three points of them. Cincinnati lost to Florida 3-2, allowing the Fuel to move into a fifth-place tie. The standings currently have Kalamazoo in third place with 61 points (14 remaining), Wheeling in fourth with 59 (15 remaining), Cincinnati in fifth with 58 (15 remaining) and the Fuel also in fifth with 58 (14 remaining). On Saturday, the Fuel travel to Toledo, Kalamazoo visits Reading, Wheeling hosts Elmira and Cincinnati hosts Fort Wayne. On Sunday, Cincinnati travels to Fort Wayne, Kalamazoo is at Reading again, while both the Fuel and Wheeling will be idle.
Coming up: A busy week for the Fuel – they’ll travel to Toledo on Saturday, then get a couple of days off before a four-games-in-four-cities-in-five-nights stretch that begins with a Tuesday trip to Kalamazoo for the K-Wings’ traditional St. Patrick’s Day greening of the ice game. Wednesday will see the Fuel host Fort Wayne before traveling to South Carolina for two weekend games against the South Carolina Stingrays and Greenville Road Warriors.