The Indy Fuel had been putting together strong efforts in recent games, and it was a matter of time before they broke through.
They did so in a big way Saturday, scoring the first four goals and tallying on the power play twice in a wild 6-2 win at Tulsa.
Kenny Ryan had a goal and two assists. Alex Wideman, Michael Neal and Nick Bligh all had two-point games, and Eric Levine made 52 saves for his second victory of the year.
The game had a throwback feel to the Indy-Tulsa games in the old Central Hockey League, with the two teams combining for 104 penalty minutes. The majority came in a line brawl with 1:29 left in the game after Reed Halabi ran Levine with an elbow and was given a match penalty, and the Fuel players responded.
In the opening period, the tone was set just 66 seconds into the game when Danick Paquette was sent off for interference. On the ensuing power play, Alex Wideman fed Nick Bligh with a cross-ice pass, and Bligh buried it to give the Fuel a lead. Levine then stole the show, making 19 saves in the opening period to restore the lead. That included killing off two penalties that overlapped into a 19-second 5-on-3.
Indy added to the lead in the second. Tyler Barnes fed Matt Rupert for an early goal, continuing hot streaks for both players. Josh Shalla then scored his 100th career goal with 2:32 left in the period. On the power play, he used a screen and ripped a shot past Tulsa’s Colin Stevens to give the Fuel a three-goal lead.
Jay Williams replaced Stevens for the third period, but fared no better. He was greeted by Neal, who corralled the puck and blazed through center for a goal 33 seconds into the third. A half-minute later, the Fuel had a four-minute power play – half of which included a 5-on-3 – as Paquette got a double-minor for roughing as he tried to challenge Zach Miskovic. A bench minor gave Indy a two-man advantage. While the Fuel didn’t score, they maintained their four-goal lead. Shortly after it ended, Shawn Bates got Tulsa on the board, but the Fuel’s Raphael Corriveau answered 31 seconds later.
Tyson Fawcett drew Tulsa within two with 6:57 left, and the Oilers pulled their goaltender for a last-ditch push, but Ryan scored an empty-netter with 2:06 to go to seal the Fuel victory.
However, not all was done. With 1:29 left, Halabi elbowed the Fuel netminder. He was given a minor, but also a match penalty. A line brawl broke out, with Travis Armstrong, Zach Miskovic and Neal all getting fighting majors for Indy, as did Halabi, Nolan Julseth-White and Darcy Murphy. Both goaltenders were also given minors for leaving their creases, and both Miskovic and Julseth-White were given game misconducts for a secondary altercation. The Fuel were also given a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Things weren’t finished – Rupert and Bates got tangled up with two seconds left and both got double roughing minors. Indy was granted 35 penalty minutes and Tulsa 43 in the game’s final 90 seconds.
Those weren’t the only altercations. Corriveau and Paquette started things with a bout in the opening period.
After a 19-save first period, Levine stopped all 10 shots he faced in the second and made 23 saves on 25 shots in the third. Indy launched 33 shots, including 15 in the third period.
- Kenny Ryan (Fuel) G/2A
- Eric Levine (Fuel) 52 saves
- Michael Neal (Fuel) G/A
- This is an emphatic way to finish the roadtrip, as the Fuel posted one of their most commanding victories of the season. Indy snapped a nine-game winless streak with the win – a streak in which the Fuel had many stretches of solid hockey, but didn’t get results. The Fuel more than got the result this time, and did so by extending their lead in the third period. Michael Neal’s early third-period goal was a big one for Indy as it set the tone for the final 20 minutes.
- A big shout-out to Eric Levine, who was strong in net and won his second game of the year. He’d had a lot of hard-luck defeats where he played well but didn’t get the win. He earned this victory, his second in 19 games this season.
- Coach Bernie John shuffled the lines a bit, moving Matt Rupert up to the scoring line with Michael Neal and Tyler Barnes. It paid off, with that line going +2, and also with the Fuel having solid three-line depth, with the top three scorers – Barnes, Alex Wideman and Josh Shalla – on different lines.
- This game marked the sixth time the Fuel scored six goals this season. The Fuel are 4-1-1 in those games. The last was a 6-3 win at Quad City on Jan. 13.
- Congratulations to Josh Shalla on scoring his 100th career goal. It was a blast through a screen on the power play.
- Michael Neal’s goal 33 seconds into the third was the fastest goal from the start of a period this season for the Fuel. His goal and assist were his first two points with the Fuel, as he is in his fourth game after joining the team from Germany. He also got a fighting major, giving him the Gordie Howe hat trick.
- The Fuel’s games against Tulsa have been feisty, but this being their final meeting of the season, it was extra so. Their first meeting back in October drew 67 penalty minutes. In this one, 70 PIM were handed out in one late-game altercation that saw three different fights break out at the same time as the Fuel protected their goaltender. Indy went 2-2-0 against Tulsa this year, winning the final two meetings. It still pales in comparison to the most legendary Indy-Tulsa game, the 2000 Game 5 in which the Indianapolis Ice won 7-0 and 334 penalty minutes were handed out. Fuel coach Bernie John scored a goal in that game.
- Indy’s special teams were just that. The Fuel went 2-for-5 with the man advantage. Tulsa was 0-for-4.
- Nobody might have a hotter stick than Matt Rupert. The left wing has scored four goals in the last four games, and he has five points in his last five contests. Five of his 14 goals have come in the Fuel’s last seven games. If anyone does, it’s Nick Bligh. The rookie center had his second multi-point game with the Fuel and third this season with a goal and an assist. In the last seven games, he has four goals and three assists.
- Kenny Ryan had a goal and two assists. It was his first multi-point game in a Fuel sweater. He had three multi-point games earlier in the season while playing for Cincinnati.
- Alex Wideman had two assists for his 13th multi-point game of the year. They allowed him to cross the 40-point mark and set a career high in points with 41. He has a team-high 17 goals and 24 assists.
- Raphael Corriveau scored his second goal of the year. It was his first goal in 16 games – the last came Dec. 10 at Reading.
- Newcomer Travis Armstrong, picked up from waivers earlier this week, was a +3 for the Fuel and he had a fight standing up for his goaltender.
Matt Rupert-Michael Neal-Tyler Barnes
Alex Wideman-Nick Bligh-Ryan Keller
Josh Shalla-Kenny Ryan-Raphael Corriveau
Nick Mattson-Chris Williams
Brandon Martell-Adam Phillips
Travis Armstrong-Zach Miskovic
BU: Jake Hildebrand
Scratches: Chris DeSousa, Paul Zanette (res), Bryn Chyzyk (res), Brady Ramsay (IR)
Next up: The Fuel return home Friday to face Fort Wayne at 7:35 p.m. That will begin a three-game weekend that sees a Saturday trip to Cincinnati and a Sunday game in Toledo.