Nailers down Fuel in shootout
WHEELING — Sunday’s shootout loss to Kalamazoo was still in the back of Yushiroh Hirano’s mind on Tuesday.
The Nailers’ forward came up short against the Kings but history did not repeat itself. Instead, he skated slowly down the ice and simply whistled a shot over the glove of Indy goalie Matt Tomkins and into the back of the net to help lift the Nailers to a 2-1 shootout victory over the Fuel on Education Day at WesBanco Arena.
Wheeling netminder Jordan Ruby made the lead stand up on Indy’s final round attempt, taking a Matt Rupert shot off the pads to seal the victory.
“I’ve had some chances in the shootout this season and I couldn’t score,” Hirano said. “So, to finally score feels good.
“(Ruby) made some tremendous saves, big saves that got us going. He is a pretty good goalie.”
Ruby — who was playing in his fourth straight contest — finished the game with 37 saves and collected the final three Fuel shots of the shootout.
“Jordan Ruby played great,” Nailers coach Mike Bavis said. “The guys played hard. It was kind of bend but don’t break, defensively and we held them off long enough to get the two points.
“(Indy) is a team that has good quickness, good hand skills and if they get some separation, then it has led to some trouble for us. They got some chances off of that and their speed kind of stretches the zone and they found some guys coming late. That gave us issues, too, but that’s why we pay the goalie.”
Josh Shalla gave Indy a 1-0 upper hand in the shootout and after two straight Nailers’ shots missed the mark, Zac Lynch evened the score, faking a backhand to his left and firing a right-handed forehand shot into the cage, setting the stage for Hirano.
The win keeps the Nailers two points ahead of the Fuel for fifth in the Central division with Wheeling still two points behind Kalamazoo for fourth and the final playoff spot.
“Two points is two points,” Bavis said about picking up the victory. “I thought we played well against a team that is really physical and fast. They are a hard team to play against.”
Wheeling struggled on the power play, going 1-for-9 on the advantage but made up for it with a strong penalty kill, keeping Indy quiet on all five of its power play opportunities.
“The goaltender is a big part of the penalty kill,” Bavis said. “Structurally, I thought guys did a good job in terms of good position, good sticks and we had some shot blocks and collapsed when they tried to attack the net. So, we did do some good things on the penalty kill to help Jordan out.”
The lone power play goal by Wheeling also came from Hirano, who lit the lamp on a one-timer from the left circle off a feed from Lynch 7:06 into the game.
“We were fortunate that the power play got us a goal early,” Bavis said. “Then, it lost its momentum throughout the game and it started to seep into other areas of our game, I thought.”
The 1-0 cushion held up until Indy’s Mathew Thompson delivered the equalizer on a tight-angle shot from the goal line with 12:51 remaining in the third.
Indy had a chance to win it in the extra period with Thompson on a breakaway with one minute left but Ruby was unbeatable, once again.
Making things even tougher on the Nailers was having Trevor Yates — who had five goals in his last three games –get called up to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before the game. However, in Wheeling, it’s always next man up.
“Trevor, since he arrived, his game has been building and his confidence has come up,” Bavis said. “He’s played a more fearless skill game in scoring situations and advantage situations, so we miss him but Cedric Lacroix picked up more of the ice time on the penalty kill, along with Alec Butcher, Hirano and a lot of guys like we’ve done all year. It’s kind of the next man up and we filled the role.”