WHEELING, W.Va. –After a bad bounce led to a goal for Indy in the first period, the Wheeling Nailers settled in and took advantage of forechecking pressure to down the Fuel 3-1. Stefanos Lekkas stopped 24-of-25 en route to his 11th victory of the season. Offensively Nick Hutchison led the way with a goal and an assist for Wheeling.
After killing a five-minute Wheeling power play, Indy’s Spencer Watson took a pass and went in alone on Lekkas. Lekkas proved equal to the task, making the save to keep the game 1-0 in favor of the Fuel.
“…..that’s where you look to the goalie to make one or two big saves to keep you in a game. Obviously, a 2-0 game is completely different and it changes the momentum, so for him [Lekkas] to make a huge stop, which he’s done all year, allows us to continue to build our momentum..” Nailers head coach Derek Army said.
Lekkas added: “I saw his [Watson] stick open up so I kind of figured he was shooting that way [glove side] and I was able to make the save and we were able to go down and get a goal to tie it a minute or so later”
Wheeling seized the momentum of that save and Tyler Drevitch got the puck from the Fuel defense and slipped a pass to Hutchison in the left slot and Hutchison shot it through in front of a diving Mitch Gillam to tie the game at 1, 4:08 into the second period. Just past the halfway point of the period, Wheeling would take a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
Hutchison skated in on the left side and passed the puck to Patrick Watling at the hash marks in the slot. Watling saw Sean Josling at the right post and sent a pass that Josling tapped in as Gillam tried to dive back and keep it out. Wheeling’s final goal of the night came as Chris Ortiz lead a rush into the offensive zone and passed to Cam Hausinger at the left face-off dot and his snapshot goes over Gillam’s glove and in for the 3-1 Wheeling final.
A Pivotal moment came just after the Hausinger goal as Drevitch was called for a hooking penalty just 24 seconds after Felix Pare was called for slashing. Wheeling killed the 5-on-3 Indy powerplay not allowing a shot.
“Talk about a gutsy penalty kill,” Army said after the game. “To kill about 1:45 of 5-on-3 time… credit to all the guys that were on that blocking shots and doing everything.”
Army also spotlighted no goals being allowed during the 5-on-3.
“That’s an unheard of 5-on-3 stat and [David Drake] had a couple blocks and every guy out there, you don’t see kills like that, that was special,” he said.
In addition to the forechecking pressure, the Nailers also kept a lot of the traffic to the outside to allow Lekkas a good sight line on the shots that did get through.
“We kept a lot of the traffic to the outside and we kind of managed the rebounds that I did give up and there’s that last flurry there at the end where they had possession they were kind of one and done tonight so it made my job a lot easier,” the Nailer netminder said of the game in front of him.
“We felt like we were on it all game long, even through the first we had a chance. We had a chance and we did a good job staying on d[efense] and hunting pucks,” Army said. “We had the 3-on-1 and it just didn’t connect and it felt like it was close. Obviously, it got one bounce and we kind of poured it on from there.”
After an off-day on Saturday, Indy will head to Toledo for a Sunday afternoon tilt against the Walleye, puck drop at Huntington Center is scheduled for 5:15 pm. Wheeling, meanwhile, will host the Iowa Heartlanders on Saturday evening with a faceoff scheduled for 7:10 at WesBanco Arena.
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