INDIANAPOLIS - Forward Kevin Dufour continued to be a spark plug for the Indy Fuel (15-13-0-0), who opened a three-game set at Indiana Farmers Coliseum with a 5-2 victory over the Wheeling Nailers on Thursday night. The Fuel's leading goal scorer notched his third consecutive two-goal game to help Indy hand the Nailers their first regulation loss since Dec. 7. With the win, the Fuel improved to 5-2-0-0 over their last seven games, pulling within two points of Wheeling for a share of third place in the Central Division standings.
Olivier Labelle (1g, 1a), Alex Brooks (1g, 1a) and Ryan Rupert also found the net for Indy, while defenseman Neil Manning added a pair of helpers. Goaltender Matt Tomkins logged another strong performance between the pipes, holding one of the ECHL's most prolific offenses to two goals on 35 shots.
It took the Fuel only 51 seconds to grab the lead in front of a large weeknight crowd of 4,596 in Indianapolis. When a Josh Shalla shot attempt handcuffed Wheeling netminder Matt O'Connell, Labelle got just enough of the rebound to pick up his 11th goal of the season.
The Nailers evened the score at 11:12 of the opening frame, as Josh Couturier finished off a feed from Zac Lynch to capitalize on a 2-on-1 rush.
Just over two minutes after Couturier's tally, Brooks answered with his second goal of the season to put Indy back on top. Radovan Bondra curled the puck around the Wheeling net before throwing a pinpoint backhand pass through a trio of defenders to a waiting Brooks off the right circle.
The Fuel's hottest goal scorer accounted for the next two goals, the first coming on an incredible individual effort in the late stages of the opening period. Dufour snatched the puck off the stick of a Nailer forward, beat a defenseman with a move to the net, and found his own rebound to send the home team into the first intermission with a 3-1 lead.
After a scoreless second frame, Dufour stretched Indy's lead to 4-1 early in the third period with his team-leading 16th goal of the campaign. Attacking the neutral zone with speed, Labelle stretched a cross-ice pass to Dufour, who drove to the net and beat O'Connor with a backhand through the five-hole. The second-year forward has now scored seven goals in his last four games, and has piled up a total of 13 points in 10 games in the month of December.
Wheeling cut the Fuel lead back to two at 13:33 of the third period, when Yushiroh Hirano beat Tomkins with a one-timer on the power play. Indy wouldn't let the Nailers get any closer, and Ryan Rupert tacked on an empty-net tally in the final minute of regulation to secure the two points.
The Fuel finished the night 0-for-4 on the power play, while Wheeling tallied once on four opportunities.
Indy continues the weekend tripleheader on home ice Friday as they take on the Central Division-leading Cincinnati Cyclones, before wrapping up the 3-in-3 set Saturday against the Brampton Beast. Puck drop on both nights is set for 7:35 p.m. ET.
Single-game tickets are now on sale for the Fuel's 5th anniversary season at Indiana Farmers Coliseum! Lock up your seat for every second of the action at Indiana Farmers Coliseum with a Fuel Ticket Plan - grab yours by heading to IndyFuelHockey.com or by calling the Fuel front office at 317-925-FUEL. Don't forget to follow the Fuel on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (IndyFuel) for news, updates, contests and much more throughout the 2018-19 season.
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