Game 67: Fuel at Toledo

The Indy Fuel’s late-season roll continues with quite possibly their biggest victory to date.

Troy Vance and Paul Zanette set a franchise record with two goals in nine seconds in the second period. Woody Hudson scored his first professional goal and Matt Rupert continued his recent hot streak in a 4-1 victory over the Toledo Walleye Friday in Toledo.

It marked the third straight victory for the Fuel, who have won three straight – all on the road – as well as four of their last five games. Indy is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games. This one came against the ECHL’s top team, a Walleye squad that had already topped the 100-point mark and entered the game on a 7-0-1 stretch. Toledo had gone 11-0-2 in its last 13 home games, suffering its first home regulation loss since Feb. 4, and its first overall regulation loss since March 10.

Eric Levine stopped 32 shots to get the victory in net, his second straight win and second straight game allowing just one goal.

A big reason for the Fuel’s recent surge has been defense. Indy has allowed three goals total in its last three games, with Levine backstopping two and Jake Hildebrand the one in-between. Each has been won with a 4-1 score.

Another big reason has been the hot stick of Matt Rupert, who has now scored goals in five straight games and seven of his last eight, and now has a team-high 21 goals for the season. His breakaway goal in the third period was critical in opening up a two-goal lead and putting the harpoon in the Walleye.

The Fuel’s first storm came midway through the second period. After Toledo’s Jordan Hill scored 1:15 into the second period to give the Walleye a lead, the Fuel answered quickly.

Troy Vance curled to the top of the faceoff circle and ripped a shot over Toledo netminder Jake Paterson’s shoulder at 4:10 of the period to tie the game at 1-1. Off the ensuing faceoff, Zanette intercepted a breakout pass from the Toledo end, skated in and hammered a slapshot past Paterson to give the Fuel a lead just nine seconds later.

Matt Rupert dug deep for a goal three and a half minutes into the third. While being tripped from behind on a breakaway, Rupert stayed with the play and one-handed the puck under the bar while prone and sliding on the ice to give the Fuel a two-goal edge.

Hudson made it 4-1 on an odd-man rush, firing a shot in from the right circle for his first pro goal.

Levine and the Fuel defense kept it that way. They again stayed out of the penalty box – the only power play of the game went to the Fuel midway through the third – and kept the ECHL’s highest-scoring team largely off the scoreboard.

The Fuel return home for four straight games, starting Saturday night when Fort Wayne visits for a 7:35 p.m. puck drop.

Boxscore

Three stars

  1. Matt Rupert (Fuel) G/A
  2. Paul Zanette (Fuel) G
  3. Eric Levine (Fuel) 32 saves

Takeaways

  1. Many of the takeaways have been listed already, but it’s impressive to see this roster come together and perform at a high level late in the season. What’s been impressive in this late streak is the Fuel have been playing a very tough schedule – all of their games down the stretch are against teams either in or fighting for playoff position.
  2. What’s also been impressive is the Fuel have been airtight in the third periods. In three straight games, Indy has locked down the final period. In those, the Fuel have stopped 115 of 118 shots, a .974 save percentage between Levine and Hildebrand in three victories. Levine has been outstanding of late, winning two straight starts. He has a .949 save percentage in his last four starts.
  3. Another big key is having depth – the Fuel have three solid lines who can put the puck in the net – with each featuring a 20-goal scorer. That makes a team difficult to match up with. The Fuel have scored four goals seven times in their last 10 games, and are 6-1-0 when they do.
  4. Toledo has been one of the top teams in the ECHL all season, and has been a tough out for the Fuel. This was Indy’s first win over Toledo since Oct. 14, 2015 – a 3-2 shootout win that opened the 2015-16 season – and snapped an eight-game Walleye winning streak in the series. The Fuel are now 1-2-0 against Toledo this season with two games left – a home-and-home to close the season next weekend.
  5. Matt Rupert has been red-hot of late, scoring goals in five straight games and seven of his last eight to tally 21 goals for the season. But none were more impressive than his tally in this one, shoveling the puck over Paterson’s shoulder while prone and sliding on the ice after being tripped. Rupert added an assist to tally his seventh multi-point game of the season, his third in the last seven games.
  6. Another player who has had a hot stick is Michael Neal, who again tallied a multi-point game with two assists. It was his third straight multi-point game and seventh in his last 10 games. In that 10-game stretch, he now has seven goals and nine assists. His two assists make him a point-a-game player for the Fuel, as he has 19 points in 19 games since joining the team.
  7. It was a day of firsts – Woody Hudson’s first pro goal. It came in his sixth game – he now has a goal and two assists for the rookie from St. Lawrence. The game also featured Troy Vance’s first goal with the Fuel. His only other goal this season came on New Year’s Eve against the Fuel while playing for Cincinnati.
  8. Austin Hervey made his pro debut and had a shot on goal in the game. Hervey and Hudson were teammates with the Indiana Ice in 2012-13. The Fuel had five former Ice players in the lineup, with Nick Mattson, Adam Phillips and Alex Wideman joining them. Phillips had an assist. Toledo had two players who matriculated through junior in Indy – Justin Agosta, who had an assist, and Shane Berschbach.
  9. Defenseman Zach Miskovic was a +3 on the day. The Fuel also had a number of +2s – Matt Rupert, Michael Neal and Nick Bligh up front and Chris Williams on the blueline.

Lineup

Alex Wideman-Paul Zanette-Jake Marchment
Matt Rupert-Michael Neal-Nick Bligh
Josh Shalla-Kenny Ryan-Woody Hudson
Austin Hervey

Chris Williams-Zach Miskovic
Nick Mattson-Adam Phillips
Brandon Martell-Troy Vance

Eric Levine
BU: Jake Hildebrand

Scratches: Travis Armstrong, Kenton Helgesen (res), Robin Press (res), Bryn Chyzyk (IR)

Roster moves: Brandon Martell was activated from reserve and Robin Press placed on reserve.

Next up: The Fuel host Fort Wayne at 7:35 p.m. Saturday, beginning the final homestand of the season. The Fuel will continue the four-game home stretch by facing Cincinnati at 3:05 p.m. Sunday.