When the Indy Fuel go a man down, it's not a problem.
With one of the top penalty killing units in the ECHL, they have a lot of confidence in their ability to bleed the two minutes and get the game back even.
The PK did the Fuel one better Saturday night in a 3-2 victory over Cincinnati in front of a capacity crowd of 6,528 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Deployed multiple times in a 2-2 game, the Fuel penalty killers kept the Cyclones from generating high-level chances. And, after the last of their seven successful kills of the night, they delivered the dagger. As a penalty expired, Cincinnati's Daniel Muzito-Bagenda ripped a shot high. The puck caromed to Matt Rupert, who sped up the wing. Michael Neal exploded out of the penalty box and charged down the center lane, driving the net with two defenders in hot pursuit.
Rupert delivered a perfect centering pass to Neal, who tapped it into the open side with 7:56 left to pot the game-winner in Indy's third straight victory. The Fuel have now won eight of their last 11 games, and continue to creep closer to playoff position. Indy is now nine points back of the fourth-place Kalamazoo Wings - who the Fuel will play Sunday to cap a three-in-three weekend.
“Rupes did all the work,” Neal said of the game-winner. “He's been playing strong for us. He made a great pass to me.
“He's always in the right spot. If you watch the end of any games where we've got to be on the defending side of things, trying to kill the last minute off, he's always out there. You can't say enough about him.”
The Fuel penalty kill, which entered the night fourth in the ECHL at 85.6 percent, was a perfect 7-for-7. Indy was 1-for-7 on the power play.
“That four-man unit out there - the guys are almost excited to kill it,” Forward Garrett Clarke said. “I've been in the box plenty, and there's no better feeling than when the guys kill a penalty. Our PK has been huge all season. The last few games, it's definitely got us a couple of wins.”
Saturday's game featured many hallmarks of the Fuel's latest run of success - an early first goal, tallies from all three lines, outstanding special teams, goaltender Etienne Marcoux standing on his head, and resiliency in adversity.
Clarke and Robin Press scored to put the Fuel up 2-0 in the opening period, tallying goals on the team's first four shots.
Cincinnati clawed back to 2-2, tying the game when Justin Vaive scored midway through the second. Indy had to kill a pair of penalties with the score tied, and didn't allow a first-rate chance, before scoring the game-winner itself.
“There was no panic in our bench,” coach Bernie John said. “We got better as the game went on. We took more stuff away from them.”
Making his 10th consecutive start, Marcoux was again stellar, stopping 28 shots. He was good early - having to face two prime chances in the opening 90 seconds - a breakaway by Brandon McNally that Marcoux forced wide, and a sprawling post-to-post save on Alex Kile as he and Justin Danforth broke in 2-on-0.
“I can't say enough about Marcoux,” Neal said. “He brings it every night. We can count on him to make big saves, like he did for us early to keep us in it. That's what All-Star caliber goaltending will do for you.”
Just like Friday - when Allen tied the game at 2-2 after two early Fuel goals in an eventual 6-3 Indy win - the Fuel responded after losing the quick lead. Taking an early lead set the tone, as it forced the visitors to spend much of the evening chasing the score.
“It's definitely different playing with a lead,” Clarke said. “We've been fortunate to do that lately. The attitude in the room has changed. Guys are feeling good. Right now, every night, we're expecting to win and we're doing it. It's a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
1. Michael Neal (Fuel) GWG
2. Etienne Marcoux (Fuel) 28 saves
3. Daniel Muzito-Bagenda (Cincinnati) G/A
1. Saturday's win was a critical division game, as it moved Indy to within eight points of fifth-place Cincinnati and nine of fourth-place Kansas City, which sits in the Central Division's final playoff spot. With this game beginning the second half of the season, there's a lot of year left. What's also left are a number of opportunities to climb the standings with head-to-head matchups. “Before the weekend started, 88 percent of the games we had left are against division teams. It's not a case where we have to scoreboard-watch,” John said. “If we just do our job and do what we can, have that belief like we have and take care of the play like we are, we can take care of business.”
2. For the second straight night, the Fuel killed a 5-on-3 power play. This one came with Indy leading by a goal and involved back-to-back tripping calls. Indy killed it without giving the Cyclones a good look. “The 5-on-3, they didn't get much,” John said. “That was good, because guys were in shooting lanes, making them beat us. We had really good sticks. We did a really good job of that. It was a good, solid win all around.”
3. Garrett Clarke has played the last two weekends at left wing after playing much of the year on defense. He scored the game's first goal by tipping Nolan Descoteaux's point shot into the net. “I'm comfortable playing anywhere,” he said. “It's not something I'm not used to. I've played forward here and there my whole pro career. I love playing with the Rupert twins. We have a lot of chemistry out there. We're not putting up big numbers, but we're getting our chances. I'm looking forward to playing with them more up front.”
4. Not only was the Fuel PK deployed multiple times, so was the power play. Indy was 1-for-7 with the man advantage, with Press' goal coming on the PP.
5. Robin Press has been strong since coming back from Rockford. In four games since returning, he has two goals and an assist, including a goal Saturday.
6. Neal's goal gave him points in four consecutive games. He leads the Fuel with 12 goals.
7. The Fuel are now 3-0-0 against Cincinnati this season. The teams will meet again Friday at U.S. Bank Arena.
Darian Dziurzynski-Michael Neal-Josh Shalla
Garrett Clarke-Ryan Rupert-Matt Rupert
Stephen Collins-Michael Neal-Johnny McInnis
Brandon Anselmini-Robin Press
Jack Burton-Zach Miskovic
Nolan Descoteaux-Riley Sweeney
BU: Greg Dodds
Scratches: Anthony Cortese, Andrew Schmit, Nathan Noel (IR)
Next up: The Fuel travel to Kalamazoo for a 3 p.m. Sunday faceoff. After a day off, the Fuel return home Tuesday for a 7:05 p.m. game against Fort Wayne.