Trying to reverse a long winless streak, the Indy Fuel found themselves facing a two-goal deficit seven minutes in Friday night.
The deficit went away first. Later on in the evening, so did the streak.
Patrick D’Amico had a quick answer for Cincinnati’s early burst. Ryan Keller added the game-winner in the second and Jake Hildebrand made 35 saves – including 19 in the third period – to lead the Fuel to a 3-2 victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
The Fuel snapped a 14-game winless streak with the victory, and now have garnered points in consecutive games, much to the delight of the 5,294 in attendance. The victory came after three straight close calls – including a big comeback by Fort Wayne on Tuesday and a shootout loss at Quad City on Wednesday night.
“Tuesday and Wednesday, we played really well,” Keller said. We let down in the third in Fort Wayne and played real hard in Quad City and came up on the short end. It was a good all-around team effort tonight. It was good to get the monkey off the back. Everyone was going and everyone was buying in. It was a good team win. Hopefully, we can carry that into tomorrow and get into the weekend.”
D’Amico had a goal and an assist in the game. Kevin Lynch had the other tally for the Fuel, tying the game at 2-2 in the opening period.
“You don’t want to give up a goal that early, but the guys stuck with it like they have,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “It’s been that way. Even though the Fort Wayne game wasn’t what we wanted, but we were pushing hard and playing well. In Quad City, we deserved a better fate. We were playing really well up there.
“It’s a sign of good things to come. These guys have worked their tails off and they deserved it.”
Hildebrand was strong in the third period, as was a Fuel defense that was playing shorthanded. The AHL’s Rockford IceHogs called up Jonathan Carlsson prior to the game, leaving the Fuel with five defensemen – a number that shrunk to four for much of the third period, as Zach Miskovic was serving a fighting major in the first part of the period, and Matt Stanisz was dinged up and unavailable for the latter part of the period.
“Credit to our D tonight. We were playing with four and a half D,” John said. “The guys in the back end hung in there and Hildy was Hildy again.”
Cincinnati carried the play in the third period, but had few top-shelf opportunities. A penalty-free period meant no power plays, and while the Cyclones had 19 shots on Hildebrand’s net – the Fuel’s lone shot was an early missive by Alex Guptill – the goaltender saw them all and kept every one out. A big key was the Fuel keeping the play to the perimeter and protecting the front of the net.
“You look up at the shot clock and they had 20 shots in the third period, but the majority of them came from the outside, and I’m supposed to make those saves,” Hildebrand said.
John said the team looked like it was “hanging on” in the third, but it also came from stressing clearing the front of the net – something that was reiterated after Fort Wayne made a big comeback Tuesday night – boxing out players in front and not allowing second and third chances. Hildebrand’s toughest save in the third came when he gloved Shawn O’Donnell’s shot on a developing 2-on-1 midway through the period. He made a few positional stops in traffic, but the defense cleared out the rebounds.
“They got a lot of shots, but were many of them great opportunities? We didn’t want to sit back, but we got the win. We didn’t give up too many Grade A opportunities,” D’Amico said. “We have all the confidence in the world in Hildy.”
Cincinnati took the lead in the opening minute, when Peter LeBlanc ripped a shot directly off a face-off – and nearly added to it when Brandon McNally had two whacks on a breakaway three minutes in. However, Cincinnati would build its lead to 2-0 at the 6:39 mark, when Shane Walsh potted a rebound.
The two-goal lead didn’t last long, as Indy – much as it did during its six-game winning streak in November – responded. Matt Rupert carried the puck below the goal off a strong cycle and found D’Amico in the slot for a one-timer and a goal 54 seconds after Walsh’s tally. The goal came out of a strong forecheck and Rupert winning a battle below the goal line.
“That’s what our line has to do,” D’Amico said. “We’re not the fancy players – we’ve got to bang bodies, get to pucks first and look for openings. I saw Rupert coming around the net, and I just saw an opening in the slot and got there. He made a great pass and I was able to put it in.”
The Fuel had to kill three first-period penalties, and shortly after their first, Lynch and Guptill had a 2-on-0 that saw Guptill try to flip the puck over sprawling Cincinnati goaltender Michael Houser, but the Cyclone was able to get enough of the disc to keep it out.
Less than a half-minute after exiting the box on the Fuel’s third successful penalty kill of of the period, Lynch tied the game with 1:09 left. Stanisz made a nifty pass from the neutral zone to allow Alex Wideman to enter the attacking zone with speed. He drew a defender and set up Lynch 1-on-1 with Houser. Lynch deked and buried his eighth goal of the year, tying the game at 2-2.
“If we get quick ups and find that seam pass, we can get some opportunities and get some 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s,” John said.
The late tying goal was critical in building momentum for the final 40 minutes.
“Our locker room was really fired up after the first when we tied it up, and we carried that momentum,” Hildebrand said.
The second period saw the Fuel tilt the ice after killing an early penalty, and eventually were rewarded with a power play with five minutes left. In the closing seconds of that man advantage, Bryn Chyzyk rushed the puck and fed D’Amico barreling into the attacking zone. Houser stopped D’Amico, but Keller stabbed at the rebound and rolled it over the Cincinnati goaltender and into the net for the eventual game-winner.
It was Keller’s third goal in four games.
“We had a quick up and I beat their guy up the ice,” Keller said. “It was a great play from Chyz to D’Amico there. I kept going hard, pitchforked one over their goalie and it trickled in. It was good to see it go into the back of the net again.”
The Fuel and Cyclones play again at 6 p.m. Saturday, and now Indy is looking to build on a streak.
“It’s about time,” D’Amico said of the win. “We would have pieces of games where we played well, and pieces of games where we wouldn’t show up. Even tonight, there’s still improvement to be made. It’s a great feeling getting a win and something to build on going forward.”
- Patrick D’Amico (Fuel) G/A
- Jake Hildebrand (Fuel) 35 saves
- Ryan Keller (Fuel) GWG
- A long skid can feel like a growing piano on the team’s back, and the joy was noticeable as it ended Friday night. “When you’re on a streak like that, it seems like the little things aren’t going your way,” Hildebrand said. “We were in a 2-2 game in Quad City and hit the post with a minute left. It’s things like that that pile up, and we needed to put a stop to it. We did it tonight – it was a great team win and the guys are really excited.”
- The crowd was one of the season’s biggest, at 5,294. It also provided a lot of energy and momentum, especially as the Fuel responded to the early deficit. “We had a lot of fans here tonight,” said D’Amico, who scored that first goal that got the crowd right back into the game. “To go down 2-0 early really takes them out of it. To get that first one really quick helped us out a lot and helped the fans get back into it. We were able to build momentum off that and didn’t look back.”
- Ryan Keller continues to find the back of the net, scoring his third goal in four games. This one might not have been the most artistic – jabbing a rebound over the goaltender’s shoulder – but it was a “dirty-area” goal that’s always key. “He’s got a big body, he’s got a long reach,” John said. “He gets to the net. At the end of the day, they never ask how they went in, they ask how many.”
- The Fuel are now 3-3-0 against Cincinnati. Indy won the first two meetings, but Cincy had taken three previous December tussles. The teams next meet for a New Year’s Eve clash in Cincinnati. They will then meet again Jan. 21-22 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, which will be the eighth and ninth of 12 meetings this year.
- Alex Guptill didn’t have a goal, but he had a lot of chances – he had six shots on goal, including the Fuel’s lone shot of the third period. Indy’s one shot in the third was a season low for a period – breaking a mark of four set several times – and the 19 shots allowed to Cincinnati also tied a season high for the most shots allowed in a period. “The third period, it looked like we were hanging on, and circumstances probably dictate that. These guys are just trying to get a win,” John said.
- Bryn Chyzyk returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 9, an eight-game absence. He contributed with an assist on Keller’s goal, and also gave the Fuel a lot of speed. “It was good to have a full lineup, even though (Brady) Ramsay didn’t play,” John said. “Having Chyz, the speed, the fresh body, it helps to have him and be able to roll those guys and have the confidence in them.”
- Ramsay dressed and will get credit for playing in the game. He suffered an injury Tuesday in Fort Wayne. He dressed Wednesday and again Friday to potentially serve penalties. He got on the ice Friday when he went over to serve a minor to D’Amico – who had gone to the dressing room for an equipment repair. He came out, looked to chase down a puck for a potential breakaway, realized the Cincinnati player was going to beat him to the puck, and headed to the bench.
- D’Amico has quietly put together a stretch of six points in his last six games, tallying those in five different contests. Friday’s game was his second multi-point contest of the year.
- Since returning from a brief absence due to injury, Kevin Lynch has tallied a point in all three games. Matt Rupert also has a three-game scoring streak going, which was extended with the assist on D’Amico’s goal. Zach Miskovic, who had the second assist on D’Amico’s tally, has points in three of his last four games.
- Special teams were solid – the PK was a perfect 4-for-4, while the Fuel power play cashed in on one of its three opportunities.
Due to injuries and callups, the Fuel dressed 11 forwards and five defensemen Friday.
Alex Wideman-Kevin Lynch-Bryn Chyzyk
Josh Shall-Alex Guptill-Tristan King
Ryan Keller-Patrick D’Amico-Matt Rupert
Justin MacDonald/Brady Ramsay
Nick Mattson-Robin Press
Matt Stanisz-Zach Miskovic
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Cody Sharib (IR), Raphael Corriveau (IR)
Next up: the Fuel travel to Cincinnati for a 6:05 p.m. faceoff Sautrday at U.S. Bank Arena. Indy returns home Sunday for a 3:05 p.m. contest against Brampton.