Game 65: Fuel at Greenville

In recent weeks, the Indy Fuel’s fortunes have often come down to the third period.

Saturday night in Greenville, it did again, but the Fuel took control of the game in the final 20 minutes to beat the Swamp Rabbits 4-1 at the BonSecours Wellness Center.

Kenny Ryan scored a breakaway goal to break a 1-all tie 7:28 into the third period, and Matt Rupert scored two empty-netters to seal the victory.

Eric Levine stopped 40 of the 41 shots he faced to earn the victory in net, his third of the season.

Tied 1-1 going into the third, the Fuel seized the lead when Ryan intercepted a pass at the offensive line and cut in on a breakaway. He roofed a shot over goaltender Brandon Halverson’s glove to break the tie. Levine stopped all 13 shots he faced in the period as Greenville made a push, but he held the fort. Michael Neal fed Rupert twice for the empty-netters to seal the game.

The two goals gave Rupert 20 for the season, giving the Fuel a pair of players with 20 goals in a Fuel sweater this year.

Early, the Fuel penalty kill went to work, making two kills in the first period as Levine stopped 18 shots to keep the game scoreless. Ahti Oksanen gave Greenville a 1-0 lead on the Swamp Rabbits’ third power play of the day in the opening minute of the second.

After making another kill, it was the Fuel’s turn to go on the power play, and they took advantage. Nick Bligh buried a rocket from the left circle to tie the game at 1-1 with 4:36 left in the second period. Indy had to kill off a late penalty to Chris Williams in the period, and did so. The Fuel were 4-for-5 on the penalty kill and 1-for-3 on the power play in the game.

Indy has now garnered points in five of its last eight outings, going 4-3-1 in that stretch. All eight of those games have come against playoff teams. The Fuel split the two-game weekend series with Greenville, a squad fighting for home-ice advantage in the South Division.

Indy concludes the three-game weekend with a Sunday matinee against the South Carolina Stingrays.

Boxscore

Three stars

  1. Eric Levine (Fuel) 40 saves
  2. Kenny Ryan (Fuel) GWG
  3. Matt Rupert (Fuel) 2G

Takeaways

  1. The Fuel have been gradually improving as the season hits the final stretch. This recent one has been a tough one on the schedule – with 15 of their final 16 games against teams currently in playoff position (the 16th is against a team one point out). Coach Bernie John has been improving the roster piece-by-piece over the season, players have been getting healthy, and the Fuel have been competitive in the start of this stretch. They’re 4-3-1 in the last eight games against playoff teams, and held third-period leads in two of the other contests.
  2. Third periods have been the key in recent games. In Friday’s 5-4 loss, it was a three-goal Greenville rally in the third. Last weekend, the Fuel rallied with two in the third to beat Kalamazoo, before staving off a Quad City rally on Sunday. Tonight, it was the Fuel seizing control of the game.
  3. Not to be overlooked is the recent strong play of Levine in net. He is 1-1-1 in his last three starts with a .944 save percentage. He’s been snakebit with some solid performances in losses, but earned his third victory with the win tonight. It was his best start of the season, in terms of both goals against and save percentage.
  4. The Fuel have now scored four goals five times in the last eight games. They’re 4-0-1 in that stretch.
  5. Matt Rupert became the third player in Fuel history to score 20 goals in a season with his two-goal game – one night after Alex Wideman became the second. Josh Shalla is one goal shy of also tallying 20 in a Fuel sweater this year. Rupert now has goals in three straight games, five of the last six and points in seven of the last nine. He has six goals and two assists in that nine-game stretch. This also marked his third two-goal game of the year.
  6. Kenny Ryan had the game-winner. He now has points in three straight games and has five goals and seven assists in 19 games with the Fuel.
  7. Michael Neal continues to produce. He tallied his third three-point game with the Fuel – all of which have come in the last six games. He has seven goals and nine assists in 17 games this season. In the last eight, he has six goals and seven assists.
  8. Nick Bligh now has goals in two of the last three games and points in three of the last four. His PPG was a critical one for the Fuel in knotting the game going up into the third period. Indy now has PPGs in consecutive games.

Lineup (based on the gamesheet)

Josh Shalla-Kenny Ryan-Nick Bligh
Alex Wideman-Paul Zanette-Kenton Helgesen
Matt Rupert-Michael Neal-Woody Hudson
Shawn Hulshof

Nick Mattson-Chris Williams
Travis Armstrong-Robin Press
Jack Burton-Troy Vance

Eric Levine
BU: Jake Hildebrand

Scratches: Zach Miskovic, Adam Phillips, Jake Marchment, Brandon Martell (res), Bryn Chyzyk (IR)

Roster moves: Prior to the game, the Fuel activated Travis Armstrong from reserve and placed Brandon Martell on reserve.

Next up: The Fuel continue the weekend with a 3:05 p.m. Sunday game in South Carolina. The roadtrip continues Friday with a game in Toledo, then the Fuel return home Saturday to face Fort Wayne at 7:35 p.m.