Game 66: Fuel at South Carolina

The Indy Fuel won the middle game of the weekend with a big finish. Sunday afternoon, they won it with a big start.

Nick Bligh and Josh Shalla scored 37 seconds apart to give the Fuel a two-goal lead in the opening three minutes and Jake Hildebrand stopped 43 shots to lead the Fuel to a 4-1 win over the South Carolina Stingrays at the North Charleston Coliseum.

The victory gives the Fuel victories in four of the team’s last five games, and a 5-3-1 record in its last nine contests.

Bligh gave the Fuel a quick lead with a goal assisted by Alex Wideman and Adam Phillips just 2:08 into the contest. On the next shift, Shalla scored his 30th goal of the season – and 20th with the Fuel – to give Indy an early two-goal lead.

South Carolina’s Adam Carlson settled down after that and played a solid game, but Hildebrand was a wall in the Fuel net. The only one of the 44 shots he faced that got through was a tally by Andrew Cherniwchan – a veteran of several AHL seasons – at 6:39 of the first. Hildebrand made 15 saves in the opening period, and 14 each in the second and third.

The Fuel killed two first-period power plays, and seconds after Michael Neal jumped out of the box after the second kill, he scored with :19 left in the opening period to give the Fuel a 3-1 lead.

The Fuel had to kill another penalty midway through the second, but the PK went 3-for-3 on the day.

The lead stayed at two throughout the third period before Matt Rupert scored his third empty-net goal in two nights to seal the Fuel’s second straight 4-1 victory.

The Fuel gained points in two games of a three-game weekend for the third consecutive weekend, going 2-1-0 for the second straight weekend. Indy travels to Toledo on Friday to begin the season’s penultimate weekend before returning home for four consecutive games.

Boxscore

Three stars

  1. Jake Hildebrand (Fuel) 43 saves
  2. Nick Bligh (Fuel) G/A
  3. Andrew Cherniwchan (SC) G

Takeaways

  1. After noting the Fuel had struggled in the third period in recent games on Friday, Indy has locked things down in the third in the last two games, outscoring opponents 4-0 in the third period in two-game stretch – including three empty-netters by Matt Rupert.
  2. Josh Shalla hit two milestones on his first-period goal – it was his 30th of the season and his 20th with the Fuel. The fifth-year pro scored 24 goals between AHL Milwaukee and ECHL Cincinnati in his rookie year of 2012-13, but this is his first 30-goal season.
  3. It’s been the weekend of 20-goal scorers. Alex Wideman hit the 20-goal milestone on Friday, Matt Rupert did it Saturday and Josh Shalla scored his 20th in a Fuel sweater this season on Sunday. Prior to this weekend, Garett Bembridge – who scored 25 in 2014-15 – was the lone 20-goal scorer in Fuel history.
  4. With 21 goals, Rupert now leads the Fuel in goals scored with Indy this season. He has goals in four straight games, six of his last seven and has points in seven of his last nine games. He has seven goals and two assists in his last nine contests.
  5. Speaking of milestones, Alex Wideman had the assist on the Fuel’s first goal, and now has 33 assists and 53 points for the year. He needs one point to tie Alex Lavoie for the team single-season scoring record. Lavoie had 54 points in 2015-16.
  6. Jake Hildebrand made 43 saves for his fourth win in his last six starts. This was the first time since November the Fuel allowed one or fewer goals in back-to-back games. In those two, Hildebrand shut out Alaska 2-0 on Nov. 12 and backstopped a 6-1 win over Wheeling six days later. It’s the third time the Fuel allowed one goal or less in back-to-back games.
  7. Michael Neal has had points in six of his last nine games – and has tallied a multi-point game in each one. He has seven goals and eight assists in that nine-game stretch, including five points in the last two games.
  8. Kenny Ryan’s two assists gives him a four-game scoring streak. He has four goals and three assists in the stretch. He has 14 points in 20 games with the Fuel.
  9. With a goal and an assist, Nick Bligh has points in four of his last five games and goals in two straight. In that stretch, he has three goals and four assists. He has 17 points in 22 games with the Fuel, and now has four multi-point games with the team this season. Bligh also had six of the Fuel’s 24 shots on goal.
  10. With an assist, Paul Zanette has points in three of his last four games.
  11. The Fuel’s recent swing has given the team 20 victories for the season. Indy has scored at least four goals in four straight games, outscoring foes 20-14 in those contests. When scoring at least four goals this season, Indy is 11-5-2. Indy is now also 14-4-3 when leading after two. The Fuel have now scored at least three goals in seven of the team’s last nine games.

Lineup

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

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

Jake Hildebrand
BU: Eric Levine

Scratches: Zach Miskovic,Kenton Helgesen, Jake Marchment (res), Brandon Martell (res), Bryn Chyzyk (IR)

Next up: The Fuel travel to Toledo for a Friday game to conclude the four-game road swing, then return home to face Fort Wayne at 7:35 p.m. Saturday and Cincinnati at 3:05 p.m. Sunday, the first two of a four-game home stand.