When a wild game hit its wildest point Saturday night, the Indy Fuel were at their best.
In the middle of a penalty-filled second period, Zach Miskovic, Nick Bligh and Cam Reid scored on consecutive second-period shots - twice on the power play. Those tallies put the Fuel on top in a 4-3 victory at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
“You can ask any goalie, when they don't get shots and there's a wave, it's difficult on them,” Fuel coach Bernie John said. “But that's guys bearing down, playing hard, and you can feel that. When you feel that, that's something you can take advantage of.”
Alex Wideman also scored to put the Fuel ahead in the first period in the victory. Goaltender Etienne Marcoux stopped 33 shots for his second win in as many nights.
The victory gave the Fuel a weekend sweep - their first back-to-back victories of the season.
The contest featured one of the wildest stretches of the season - starting in the closing minutes of the first period, and carrying over through much of the second. Of the 97 penalty minutes dished out, 85 came in that span.
“We played a team game,” Bligh said. “We stuck up for each other. We killed penalties, and took that momentum and carried it through. We had to forget about what they were trying to do and think about us.”
It all started when Nolan Descoteaux had a clean open-ice check at the Tulsa blueline. Tulsa's Kale Kessey dropped his gloves, and found a willing combatant in Matt Rupert. Two and a half minutes later, a Fuel player was hit head-first into the boards behind the play.
Moments later on the ensuing rush, Wideman was sent off for a cross-checking major and a game misconduct. Two more penalties followed, forcing the Fuel to spend much of the major killing a 5-on-3.
Tulsa's Eric Drapluk scored late in the 5-on-3, and Cody Sampair gave the Oilers a lead with another power play goal 3:37 into the period after the Fuel got the extra minor in another altercation.
Having spent much of seven consecutive minutes shorthanded and having given up two goals, that's often a breaking point for a team. Instead, it was a rallying point, as the Fuel tried to keep a level approach.
“The leaders do a great job calming us down,” Bligh said. “They're on the bench telling us, better to take one off the mouth than hurt our team. They were doing a great job preaching to us to stay level-headed.”
Indy drew back-to-back power plays and took advantage of both. Miskovic floated a shot through a screen that tied the game at 5:37 of the second. It came on a delayed penalty, giving the Fuel another power play. Sixty-five seconds into it, Bligh dangled through three Oilers and gave the Fuel the lead.
Those back-to-back goals gave the Fuel three power play goals in two games. They had been 0-for-18 before a power play goal Friday.
“We've watched some video,” Bligh said. “We know we have to be better on the power play. We've been trying to simplify and get pucks to the net. The simpler we make it, the more things are going to open up.”
Cam Reid continued the momentum-turning stretch with a goal at 8:16 of the second. Stephen Collins fed him from behind the net for a one-timer at the top of the crease, giving Indy a 4-2 edge.
“We were riding the high there,” Bligh said. “We got the puck in deep, we were changing the puck east-to-west. It was a great play by everyone.”
The two-goal lead allowed the Fuel to play defensively in the third period, especially given they were down to eight forwards due to penalties and injuries. Marcoux stopped 15 of the 16 shots he faced, his best save coming seven minutes in when he sprawled out to rob Joey Sides alone in front, who tried to deke to his forehand and outreach the Fuel netminder.
Things got interesting in the final minutes, when Chris Joyaux scored from the point after a long cycle with 3:11 left. Reed Seckel was sent off for holding with 2:25 left and Tulsa pulled the goaltender once it established itself in the zone for a 6-on-4, but the Fuel penalty killers allowed just two shots and cleared the puck multiple times.
“That's a big kill there,” John said. “That's the guys working hard, buying in to what we're trying to do.”
The victory marked the Fuel's first weekend sweep of the year.
“There's nothing better,” Miskovic said. “We've just got to keep building. Enjoy it and keep building next weekend.”
Boxscore (link: https://www.echl.com/stats/game-center/15101)
1. Nick Bligh (Fuel) G/2A
2. Zach Miskovic (Fuel) G/A
3. Etienne Marcoux (Fuel) 33 saves
1. The Fuel entered the weekend having not scored a first-period goal at home. After coming away with a 3-1 lead Friday, Alex Wideman put the Fuel ahead 1-0 midway through the first Saturday. “That's a key for us,” Miskovic said. “We wanted to really push, really get going, get some shots on their goalie and come away with the first goal and play with the lead. That really helped us tonight.”
2. Tulsa coach Rob Murray was on the minds of both teams. He was hospitalized Friday night - and the Oilers' game against Quad City was suspended. The Oilers' public relations staff announced Murray had been released Saturday afternoon. It led to an emotional game for both teams. “Our sympathy, thoughts and prayers are with their head coach,” Miskovic said. “When it comes to the game, we wanted those two points. We played strong, we played as a team, we really supported one another.”
3. Saturday's game saw 97 penalty minutes - 52 whistled on Tulsa and 45 on the Fuel. It was the most penalty-filled game of the year for both teams. But most came in a short stretch that saw multiple altercations - a fight between Matt Rupert and Kale Kessy, another between Reed Seckel and Connor Schmidt and two different sets of matching roughing minors.
4. Not only that, but with Wideman serving a major penalty, the Fuel had back-to-back minors, meaning Tulsa had nearly four consecutive minutes of 5-on-3. The Oilers eventually scored, but did so late in the penalty kill. That capped a weekend where the Fuel were 16-for-19 on the penalty kill. “The 5-on-3 was big,” John said. “Marcoux was big in net. He made the key saves when he needed to. Eventually, that sealed it.”
5. For the second straight night, the Fuel had a three-point player. Bligh had a goal and two assists for his first three-point game since a hat trick against Quad City on April 4. It was his third career three-point game, and the second for the Fuel this season. Cam Reid had three points in Friday's 6-2 victory over Kalamazoo.
6. Another first came in the victory. Stephen Collins had the first assist on Reid's goal for his first career point. Garrett Clarke had his first Fuel point with an assist on Wideman's goal.
7. Cam Reid, Alex Wideman and Nick Bligh's goals gave them each tallies in back-to-back games. Robin Press and Nolan Descoteaux each had an assist, giving them both points in back-to-back games.
8. The Fuel are now 2-0-0 against Tulsa this season. The teams have one more meeting, Feb. 18 in Tulsa.
Alex Wideman-Cam Reid-Nick Bligh
Radovan Bondra-Michael Neal-Matt Rupert
Tommy Olczyk-Reed Seckel-Nathan Noel
Garrett Clarke-Riley Sweeney
Nolan Descoteaux-Zach Miskovic
Jack Burton-Robin Press
BU: Collin Delia
Scratches: Andrew Schmit, Brandon Anselmini, Ryan Rupert, Matt Tomkins (IR), Troy Vance (IR), Anthony Cortese (IR)
Next up: The Fuel begin another home double-weekend Friday night when they host Fort Wayne at 7:35 p.m.