When they fell behind by three goals Tuesday, there was a quiet confidence among the Indy Fuel bench the team could - and would - come back against Fort Wayne.
Indy nearly did - playing a strong second half of the game to close the deficit to one, but a late goal by Artur Tyanulin gave the visitors some breathing room in a 5-3 Fort Wayne victory over the Fuel.
Tuesday's game falls in the midst of a busy stretch for the Fuel - the fulcrum of seven games in 10 days, in-between back-to-back three-game weekends. It also is a prelude to an important weekend, as the Fuel play three road games this weekend against Cincinnati and Kalamazoo, the two teams directly ahead of them in the Central Division standings.
“There's a lot of belief in the room,” said Fuel forward Darian Dziurzynski, who along with linemate Josh Shalla tallied a goal and an assist Tuesday. “It's not one guy that's doing it. Everybody's going out there and contributing big goals every night. It's something we need to get back to on Friday night, and come out with a superior effort.”
Despite a number of solid chances, Indy fell behind 3-0 in the second period, as Bobby Shea's one-timer off the rush gave the visitors a 1-0 lead after one. Justin MacDonald and Mason Baptista both got free in front and scored goals 2:25 apart early in the second to extend the lead.
But the Fuel had chances - Dziruzynski just missed a tip-in on a far-post drive in the first, and was robbed by Fort Wayne goaltender Garrett Bartus after a great setup by Josh Shalla on a 2-on-1, which would have tied the game 1-1. Fort Wayne instead extended its lead on the ensuing rush. Even chasing the score, a Fuel team that had won eight of its previous 12 games - and two straight at home - was confident.
“We were in it all the way until the three-minute mark in the third, whether we were down two or down three,” Fuel assistant coach Ryan McGinnis said. “We were in a good spot. That belief is there. That's a big difference between now and two or three months ago. It's situational hockey, just taking care of the D-zone faceoff late in the third, taking care of the Xs and Os, the detail, and on the other end, taking care of what we need to, whether it's capitalizing on the power play, getting pucks to the net and traffic to the net.”
The Fuel began to storm back. Bartus stopped Reed Seckel on a breakaway, but Dziruzynski got Indy on the board a minute later, coming in as the trailer on a rush and ripping a shot past Bartus to cut the deficit to 3-1.
“It was a great pass by Neal. Ever since I was little, I've been taught to get the puck on net as quick as possible. That was the case on that one,” Dziruzynski said.
Indy gained momentum with back-to-back penalty kills, but it was stunted a bit when a defensive zone turnover led to Dennis Kravchenko's goal early in the third, but the Fuel stormed back. Dziurzynski fed Shalla for a one-timer a minute later to cut the deficit to 4-2. Johnny McInnis' deflection over Bartus' shoulder on the power play with 5:34 left brought the Fuel within one. They pushed for the tying goal, but Tyanulin - Fort Wayne's skilled, young ECHL All-Star - got to his own rebound off a faceoff for an insurance goal.
The Fuel are 10 points back of Cincinnati, 11 back of fourth-place Kalamazoo and 12 back of third-place Kansas City, with several head-to-head opportunities to gain ground. The next three are this weekend, as the Fuel visit Cincinnati Friday before heading to Kalamazoo for games the next two days.
“We're chasing Cincinnati and Kalamazoo. These are games we've got to win. These are huge games for us,” Dziruzynski said. “We've got to come out and really try to get six points this weekend.”
1. Artur Tyanulin (FW) G/2A, +3
2. Darian Dziurzynski (Fuel) G/A, +2
3. Dennis Kravchenko (FW) G/A, +3
1. The trio of Darian Dziurzynski, Michael Neal and Josh Shalla continues to produce. They teamed up for two Fuel goals Tuesday, with Dziurzynski and Shalla each tallying a goal and an assist. Neal also had the primary assist on Dziurzynski's goal. They also produced a handful of prime scoring chances. Since being paired together, all three are playing at a nearly point-a-game pace. Shalla has eight goals and three assists, Dziurzynski four goals and three assists, and Neal two goals and six assists. “Me and (Shalla) both have that touch to our game,” Dziurzynski said. “Anytime you can add goal-scorers on a line, you're going to get a lot of chances, a lot of pucks on net, a lot of rebounds sitting there. Between me and him, we've been really focused on getting to the net and finding those loose pucks. Neal, you watch him move the puck, he makes plays a lot of guys never see until he does it. He makes plays out there - he's obviously our All-Star selection this year, he's having a good year.”
2. The three players on that line were also plus players in Tuesday's game. The two wingers were both plus-2, while Neal was plus-1.
3. Both teams were playing their fourth game in five days Tuesday, and with a big weekend coming up, managing rest will be critical going forward. The ECHL schedule always gets very busy after the All-Star break, and this year is no exception. Last weekend was the first of seven three-in-threes the Fuel will play in an eight-week stretch, a stretch that will include a lot of travel. Ten of the Fuel's next 11 games will be on the road. “Rest is very important,” McGinnis said. “Having seven in 10 days and having 38 games in 80 days, whatever way you want to slice it, it's a lot of hockey. Rest is very important. We stress that. We've given the guys ample time off. That's a big piece to it. There's certainly more that goes into it than just on the ice to being successful.”
4. Indy is now 1-5-0 against Fort Wayne. The two teams have three meetings remaining - Feb. 14 in Fort Wayne, and March 23 and 31 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
5. The Fuel's special teams came through again. Indy was 1-for-2 on the power play, and a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
6. Coach Bernie John switched up the defensive pairings, bringing Anthony Cortese into the lineup. Jack Burton skated with Robin Press, while his usual defensive partner Zach Miskovic and Cortese played together. It was Cortese's first game since Jan. 13.
Darian Dziurzynski-Michael Neal-Josh Shalla
Garrett Clarke-Ryan Rupert-Matt Rupert
Reed Seckel-Cam Reid-Johnny McInnis
Jack Burton-Robin Press
Anthony Cortese-Zach Miskovic
Brandon Anselmini-Riley Sweeney
BU: Greg Dodds
Next up: The Fuel travel to Cincinnati for a Friday contest, then head to Kalamazoo for games Saturday and Sunday.