The Indy Fuel are on a winning streak.
After winning the last two games of a fruitful roadtrip, the Fuel carried that momentum into Saturday night. Indy scored three goals in a seven-minute span of the second period to beat the Tulsa Oilers 3-2 in front of a franchise-record 6,549 fans.
Josh Shalla had a goal and assisted on the other two – tallied by Bryn Chyzyk and Chris Williams. Jake Hildebrand made 34 saves in the Fuel net to backstop the team’s third straight victory.
The victory was a continuation of a four-game trip where the Fuel had two strong games in losses to Allen, and followed with wins against division rivals Wichita and Quad City. After Saturday’s victory against another division rival Tulsa, the Fuel continue their tour of the Central Division Sunday in Fort Wayne.
“It started in Allen. We had two hard-fought games. We didn’t come out on top, but we did things really well,” Williams said. “We talked about staying positive and building off the good things we were doing. We played really well the second game in Allen. We went into Wichita and had a lot of scoring chances. Even though it was 1-0, we had a lot of chances. We carried that over into Quad City, and everyone showed up and competed tonight for another big win.”
The Fuel dominated the first period, but found themselves down 1-0 on Shawn Bates’ shorthanded goal. It came on Tulsa’s first shot 7:17 into the game. But things turned around quickly. Indy held a 14-6 shot advantage in the opening period, with Matt Rupert just missing a weak-side chance and Kevin Lynch’s blast from the point ticking off the glove of Tulsa netminder Colin Stevens and off the post.
“You never want to give up the first one, but I think we bounced back well and the team responded even better,” Hildebrand said.
Having a carryover power play allowed the Fuel to address the shorthanded goal allowed. John stressed having a sense of urgency with the man advantage. And 1:07 into the period, the equalizer came, as Bryn Chyzyk whizzed a wristshot past Stevens’ blocker to tie the game with a power play goal.
Sixty-three seconds later, Lynch drew the puck back to Shalla, whose snipe banked off the post and in.
“That was big,” Shalla said of the first goal. “Our power play’s been struggling a bit. To get that goal, get another one quickly behind, that’s when they shut it down a little bit.”
Shalla said he’s trying to miss the defenseman’s legs as he hammers the puck on goal.
“Lynch has been winning those back a lot lately and I haven’t got one,” Shalla said. “Tonight, it went in.”
At 7:55, Shalla, Alex Wideman and Williams – a defenseman moving up to right wing due to the Fuel having a shortage of forwards and a surplus of blueliners – had a monster shift.
Williams came in on the forecheck to start the play, and then camped out in front of the net while the others cycled the puck. Williams eventually redirected a centering pass into the net to put the Fuel up 3-1.
It was his second goal of the year, created by his net-front presence in the cycle.
“I did what the coaches ask me to do – go hard to the net,” Williams said. “I was waiting there and was able to get enough of my stick on it to get it over the line. I was kind of lucky, but if you go hard to the net, good things happen.”
From there, it was the Hildebrand show. Indy had to kill off back-to-back Tulsa power plays late in the second, and the Fuel netminder made four saves on the first. He made one of his most spectacular saves of the season, as Tulsa fed Danick Paquette on a cross-crease pass with an open side. Hildebrand went post-to-post and made a blocker save.
That elicited a roar from the sellout, above-capacity crowd.
“You read, react and nine times out of 10, that puck goes in the net. The one time it doesn’t, it makes a difference,” Hildebrand said. “The crowd went nuts. It was pretty special, especially with the crowd we had tonight.”
Tulsa surged in the third and drew within one on Darcy Murphy’s goal, which came after a spirited board battle. The puck came free to him for a move to the front of the net and a goal with 6:13 left. That was the only one of the 29 Tulsa shots in the final two periods that got through.
While Hildebrand was solid, he was helped out by a Fuel defense that kept Tulsa’s attack to the perimeter.
“The way we blocked shots in the last minute – the last five minutes – was something special,” Hildebrand said. “They took it to us at the end of the game. We stuck together and made the plays we needed to make.”
- Josh Shalla (Fuel) G/2A
- Jake Hildebrand (Fuel) 34 saves
- Chris Williams (Fuel) GWG
- The overflow crowd on Blackhawks Night provided a strong energy in the building, one amped up with Jim Cornelison’s national anthem and the appearance of Hall of Famer Denis Savard prior to the puck drop. That energy carried onto the ice. “You could see the way they played the first period. We were itching to get the first one and get the place rocking,” John said. “We hope they keep coming out and keep pushing these guys. I know from when I played, the fans make a big difference when they’re loud like that and they’re involved. Especially when you’re looking for that one goal, they get into it and one becomes two and three. Fans are key. It was a great night tonight, and they loved it.”
- The players said the loud building created a lot of energy. The Fuel had the game’s first six shots in the opening five minutes. “You saw it in the first period. We outshot them, we kept the puck in their end,” Hildebrand said. “When we have starts like that, we’re going to be successful.”
- Josh Shalla’s three-point game marked his fourth multi-point game with the Fuel, and all coming in a 10-game stretch. In his last five games, he has three goals and five assists, tallying points in four of those games and multi-point games in three. It was his second three-point game of the season. The first was his four-goal game on Dec. 27 at Fort Wayne. Shalla is now scoring at a point-a-game clip since joining the Fuel – 13 points in 13 games.
- Williams’ game-winner was his second goal of the season. The first came Nov. 18 against Wheeling.
- Little things that can be big ones often go unnoticed, but are critical. On one late third-period shift, with Tulsa showing some jump after closing to within one, Jonathan Carlsson made two outstanding plays – one a stick lift in the slot, the other a blocked shot – to thwart scoring chances. Tulsa had one solid chance after – a deflection in front – but a lot of their shots didn’t get through. “That’s just an experienced guy back there that knows the detail things,” John said. “It was great. Everybody chipped in, doing those little things.”
- One of the big reasons for the Fuel’s recent surge has been getting healthier. They now have a surplus of defensemen after Matt Stanisz returned to the lineup. Newcomer Chris Phillips was unavailable Saturday due to injury, but the abundance allowed Indy to move Williams up front to play as a 10th forward. Health – and good starts – have been a key piece. And while the Fuel didn’t score in the first, they dominated the period. “We’ve had really good starts,” Hildebrand said of the keys behind the Fuel’s recent surge. “That’s important. We didn’t score first tonight, but we’ve been scoring first a lot. We’ve got six healthy (defensemen) now. We’re not rotating four or five D, we’ve got six, and they all can move the puck and contribute offensively.”
- Another key in the surge has been that the Fuel have been scoring goals. The three-goal second period marked the Fuel’s 10th three-goal period of the year, and their second in as many nights. The Fuel are averaging 3.2 goals per game in the last 11 games. But also taking care of the defensive end has been key. Hildebrand has stopped 106 of the last 111 shots, a .955 save percentage. “We’re working hard on our defensive zone,” John said. “If we can take care of that, we’ve got a lot of offensive power than can score.”
- While there were no fisticuffs during the game, the contest got more physical as the game went on, and finally, tempers flared at the buzzer. While several skirmishes took place, captain Zach Miskovic and Tulsa’s Emerson Clark dropped the gloves and had a post-whistle disagreement.
- Since returning from an injury that held him out three weeks in December, Chyzyk has three goals and two assists in eight games, including goals in back-to-back contests.
- Alex Wideman’s assist on Williams’ goal gave him a four-game assist streak. He has six points in those four games – all assists – and now has 31 points in 37 games.
- The Fuel are now 1-2-0 against Tulsa. The teams have one meeting remaining, a game Feb. 18 in the Oklahoma city.
Bryn Chyzyk-Kevin Lynch-Josh Shalla
Alex Wideman-Paul Zanette-Alex Guptill
Ryan Keller-Patrick D’Amico-Matt Rupert
Nick Mattson-Jonathan Carlsson
Matt Stanisz-Zach Miskovic
Brandon Martell-Robin Press
BU: Eric Levine
Scratches: Adam Phillips, Brady Ramsay (res), Raphael Corriveau (IR), Cody Sharib (IR)
Next up: The Fuel travel to Fort Wayne for a 5 p.m. Sunday start. It will be the third game in three days for both teams. The Komets have dropped two straight one-goal games to Tulsa and Quad City, falling 4-3 on the road Saturday night to QC. Afterwards, Alex Wideman will travel to Glens Falls, N.Y. for the All-Star Game while the Fuel will return home for six consecutive home games, beginning Friday, Jan. 20 against Toledo.