INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The Indy Fuel refuse to go quietly into the off-season, instead, fighting hard in the final games of the season.
The Quad City Mallards already know they’ll be facing the Fort Wayne Komets for the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs, and the Komets have already locked in home-ice advantage, so the points are pointless at this stage the game. With the last two games of the regular season this weekend — against the Komets no less — the Mallards need one thing more than anything else: confidence. The Komets haven’t been an easy opponent for the Mallards this season, but they haven’t been impossible. This final weekend will perhaps help determine the momentum of the opening round.
Wednesday night, the scoring started out early, Alex Wideman netting a goal just ten seconds after the opening face off. Paul Zanette won the drop, passing it back to Jake Marchment. Marchment then passed along the left boards to Wideman, who slid the puck in past Adam Vay’s blocker. In the late stages of the first, Chris Francis knotted the score with help from Michael Parks. Parks passed from left of the goal-line back to Francis in the slot, who one-timed it in over Jake Hildebrand’s glove.
Josh Shalla gave his team the lead back just under two minutes into the middle frame, when Kenny Ryan won the face-off to Vay’s right. Shalla then fired the puck in over Vay’s glove. Nick Bligh netted his first tally of the night two minutes later, Filip Rydstrom and Matt Rupert assisting. Rydstrom, at the edge of the left circle in the Mallards’ defensive zone, passed to Bligh at the right dot. Bligh then sent a rocket of a shot into the net, the puck having so much force it continued in-between Vay’s elbow and body to trickle into the twine.
Those same three Fuel players would combine for another goal minutes later, with only the assists switched around. Bligh passed to Rupert, who then passed back to Bligh between his legs as he stood at the right edge of the crease. Bligh backhanded the puck into the gaping net, Vay unable to go coast to coast fast enough to make the save. Justin Kovacs a minute later put his team back on track, closing the home team’s lead to 4-2. Nolan LaPorte in the high slot passed to Kovacs as the latter skated towards the right edge of the crease. Kovacs slipped the puck in behind Hildebrand to turn the red light on and begin the Mallards’ attempted comeback.
The third period was less action-packed, the next goal not coming until just three seconds over the halfway mark of the final frame. A few seconds after Donnie Harris exited the penalty box for cross-checking, he received the puck from Mike Wilson just past the blue line as they skated up the ice. Harris’ shot from the left dot completed the comeback bid, as three minutes later Bligh scored a hat-trick. Austin Hervey and Shalla assisted, Shalla passing from just before the center line along the right boards to Hervey. Hervey was at the blue line, then skated up to the dot before passing to Bligh at the left corner of the crease.
With just five seconds left in the game, Marchment sealed the deal with his unassisted empty net goal. The puck just barely managed to cross the line, Marchment shooting from the left corner at just the right angle to sink the puck.
The Mallards return home to face the Komets on Friday for the last regular-season home game before traveling to Fort Wayne for the rest of the home-and-home series the following night. As always, puck-drop is scheduled for 7 CST for Friday’s tilt. The Mallards’ first playoff game is the following Friday – Good Friday – in Fort Wayne.