INDIANAPOLIS – Luc Brown capitalized on a pass from Maxim Golod, redirecting the puck past Wheeling goaltender Brad Barone to give the Fuel a 2-0 lead early in the first en route to a 3-1 victory over the visiting Wheeling Nailers.
The Fuel came out flying in the opening period, executing perfect tape-to-tape passing and pressuring the Wheeling defenders onto their heels. It took just five minutes for Indy to get on the scoreboard when Kirill Chaika flung a shot from the blue line that Alex Wideman tipped on a screen and into the back of the net. Minutes later, a Wheeling penalty led to a 2-0 lead with Maxim Golod sending a pass into the crease, leading to Luc Brown tipping it home to beat Nailer goaltender Brad Barone to double the lead. The Nailers got a late power play in the period and had their chances, but Indy’s Cam Gray slammed the door shut on Wheeling’s push.
Wheeling picked up its physicality in the second period, but that didn’t stop the Fuel from getting a late goal in the period when Matus Spodniak scored his first of the season, passing the puck towards the crease and it deflecting off a Nailer skate and through Barone’s legs to go up three. In the final minute of the period, Wheeling finally broke through when Samuel Tremblay finished off a pass from Davis Bunz in the far corner, firing a shot past a sliding Gray to end his shutout bid.
The Nailers began the third with a plethora of chances, crashing the net and drawing a double-minor penalty but were unable to take advantage of it. From there, the Fuel used a defensive approach to hold the Nailer attack, leading to just six shots in the period for Wheeling. The teams traded penalties in the final minute, and the Nailers pulled their goalie in a desperate comeback attempt but could not come through.
“We were talking about having a full sixty tonight playing three solid periods, and I think we accomplished that,” Indy Fuel goaltender Cam Gray commented on his team’s performance Friday night.
Over the past several weeks, the Fuel have struggled to get on the scoreboard, but that was not an issue on Friday night. Indy scored two goals just over eight minutes into the match, setting themselves up for the rest of the game. This was an excellent sign for Indy, especially with their recent struggles at the Coliseum; they know winning their home games in the postseason will be critical.
Friday night was a disappointing loss for Wheeling, who is now pretty much out of the postseason. Outshot 35-24, the Nailers didn’t do themselves any favors by missing the net several times on crucial chances in prime scoring locations. Without consistently generating a shot on the net, the team missed out on a multitude of rebound opportunities and second chances that would’ve been huge in a close game like this one.
Cam Gray’s Performance
With 23 saves, the Indy netminder’s performance was the key to victory tonight. With his lack of recent game action, it was intriguing to see how he would come out and perform. He was impressive, fighting off several Wheeling breakaways and power-play opportunities. With playoff time just around the corner, he will need to be ready to be called upon, and on Friday, he showed that he could handle the reigns in the net if needed.
With the victory, the Fuel pulled within nine points of second-place Toledo with seven games remaining. As for the Nailers, the door is about closed on a playoff run. Fort Wayne currently holds a 14-point lead over Wheeling for the final playoff spot with just seven games remaining. The Nailers will have to win out and get much help for a chance at a postseason berth.
Next, Indy travels to Toledo for a Saturday night showdown with the Walleye before finishing the weekend back on home ice against the Kalamazoo Wings. After that, Indy will finish their regular-season home slate with games against the Iowa Heartlanders on April 8, and the Fort Wayne Komets on April 14 before playoffs start the following weekend.
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