INDIANAPOLIS – Returning home from a rough first two games in Ohio, the Indy Fuel wanted to right the ship at home. Unfortunately, on Tuesday night, the Fuel was shut down in a 4-1 defeat to the visiting Toledo Walleye. With the loss, Indy falls behind 3-0 in the series and is now just one loss away from elimination in the 2023 Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Both sides brought speed in the opening period, hoping to get out to an early lead, but neither side was successful. In the latter half of the frame, a five-on-three gifted Toledo an opportunity at the first goal of the contest, but the stingy Fuel defense, coupled with the stellar play of goaltender Mitchell Weeks, held the game scoreless.
Indy started the second off on the right foot, and with an early power play, they were very close to breaking the ice. This time, it was Toledo netminder Sebastian Cossa‘s turn to stand his ground. As the period went on, however, the Walleye slowly gained control, racing to back-to-back breakaways and converting on the second when Sam Craggs fired a spot just over the glove of Weeks.
Just over a minute later, the Walleye doubled the lead when Trenton Bliss took a cross-crease pass from Gordie Green, beating the sliding goaltender to the near post. The pair of quick tallies stunned the crowd as Toledo continued to buzz to the end of the period, with a late fight between Gordi Myer and Max Golod resurrecting the crowd for a few brief moments heading into the final stanza.
The Fuel found life early in the third when Chad Yetman skated through the middle of the offensive zone unguarded, firing a shot from the slot over the glove of Cossa to cut the lead in half. A Walleye penalty brought the crowd to their feet, anticipating a tie game in the near future, but a misplay at the blue line led to a chance for Toledo’s Craggs. His shot was initially blocked but fell to the stick of Andrew Sturtz, who fired the puck past Weeks to regain the two-goal lead and silence the crowd.
The rest of the way, the Fuel tried everything they could to inch closer, but the Walleye defense stood tall, and an empty netter by Donavan Sebrango sealed the deal for the Walleye.
Where’s the Offense?
Through three games in the series, the Fuel has just four goals total while surrendering four goals per game on defense. Those numbers aren’t going to get it done, especially against a team with a boatload of experience as last season’s Western Conference Champion.
“We want to be better in certain areas. Special teams is one of them. It’s a situation where we need to produce more 5-on-5 (goals).” Indy Fuel head coach Duncan Dalmao commented on his team’s offensive struggles in the series.
In addition to that, not one player on the Fuel roster has accumulated more than a single point across all playoff games, which sounds even worse when you find out that goaltender Weeks is tied for the most playoff points on the team so far. Indy needs an offensive spark, and if nothing changes by Thursday, it’ll be too late.
One of the keys to this series for the Walleye was to take advantage of special teams, and they did just that on Tuesday, converting on a power-play goal.
Also, they added both a shorthanded and empty goal to add to their success. Overall, Toledo seemed to score in every way on Tuesday, and it’s something that their lethal special teams has been accustomed to all season.
The Walleye was a concerning match-up for the Fuel coming into the postseason. Winning just one of six matchups versus Toledo in the regular season, including no wins since November, it was intriguing to see if things changed in the playoffs. So far, that is not the case. With the win Tuesday night, the Walleye are now 8-1 against the Fuel this season and will look for win number nine on Thursday.
Ultimately, the Fuel’s season comes down to Thursday. Through three games, Indy has had no answer to the Walleye attack and goaltending. Without a win at home all season against them, they will need to find a way to extend the series to a game five on Saturday night at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum before even thinking about sending it back to the Huntington Center in Toledo.
It’s now do-or-die for the Fuel. Will they find a way, or will the offseason start earlier than they had hoped? Thursday will tell us a lot.
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