ECHL Playoff Recap: Indy Fuel vs. Wheeling Nailers Game 4 | 04/27/2024

Stacey Gramlich for Inside the Rink
Photo Credit: Stacey Gramlich | Inside The Rink

The game between Indy Fuel and the Wheeling Nailers held at the Pittsburg Penguins‘ practice barn, is a pivotal moment for both teams. The Nailers can secure a spot in the semifinals and face the Toledo Walleyes. Meanwhile, Indy is striving to stage a comeback and challenge the Nailers in their pursuit of the Kelly Cup. This game marks the Nailers’ 16th postseason appearance, contrasting with Indy’s fourth. The little things will make this game exciting as both teams battle to advance to the next round. During the last four games, we already see that it’s going to be the jibs and chirps that make the difference. They get under each other’s skin and cause slip-ups. The Nailers have to control themselves to make it to the next round. Indy just has to keep their foot on the gas, with no brake. Bringing that A game that we saw in their season. Especially special teams, controlling PP and PKs, because as this game goes on, that is where they are going to start to slip up. 

Heading into the first period, both teams come out like their skates are on fire, pushing harder and fighting using a different strategy than we have seen them use.  Both teams dig in and get chirpy, with Cam Hausinger and Justin Lee getting friendly and giving each other a few good jabs, but nothing results in a penalty. Indys Ross MacDougall gets called for a penalty, putting the Nailers on the power play. The Nailers have scored on 5 of 17 PPs in this series, giving them a 26% success rate. We see the Nailers close out the PP with no change in score. During the PP, we get to see an excellent poke check by Justin Lee when Indy got ahold of the puck, denying a breakaway. Wheeling has played cautiously this period, managing their contact to ensure they aren’t garnering penalties and power plays. The Nailers have an 86% for their penalty kills, but they still dont want to allow Indy to have that man advantage. We see our first goal 23 seconds after the penalty expires when Ross MacDougall finds the back of the net, bringing the score to 1-0 Indy. In the last four games the first to score has been the winner of the game. The period ends with the only action we see besides the players once again getting handsy coming from the one-man show of Ross Macdougall. 

The second period sees both teams intensify their efforts, searching for opportunities to gain an advantage. Wheeling is the first to catch a penalty, with Lukas Svejkovsky called for tripping just 1:02 into the period. This puts Indy on the power play. However, Matt Knoopman manages to gain control of the puck and, halfway through Indy’s power play, sinks the puck shorthanded, tying the game 1-1. This goal is a significant turning point in the game, showcasing the Nailers’ ability to capitalize on their opponents’ power play opportunities. We see Indy make a minor mistake of not having enough players on the ice. This leads to Indy D.J King being called for Hooking. Nailers head to the PP for the second time of the night, with Justin Addamo working his way through traffic and gets the goal on the power play, putting the Nailers in the lead for the first time of the night 2-1. Jaxon Castor had a great save, gloving it down when Kyle Maksimovich came in hot and heavy. The players started to take offense to some of the plays being made, leading to Wheelings Matthew Quercia getting into a shoving match when Indys Jon Martin got just a little too close to goalie MItchell Weeks. We would see the penalty again expire just to have Wheeling Justin Addamo score for the second time at 14:04 into the second period, making it a 3-1 game. With thirty-seven seconds left, Santino Centorame scores and gets taken to the ice with more pushing and shoving between teams. We now have a 3-2 game, and the period ends with Cam Hausinger and Matthew Quercia starting to poke and prod at each other,  requiring assistance off the ice. 

This crucial third period gets underway, and we see Indy start dominating the shots on goal in the first ten minutes. During that time, Wheelings Justin Addamo gets tripped up in the pack and is called for Hooking on Indy, sending the Fuel back on the PP. The power play expires, and once again, Jaxon Castor makes a massive save against Kyle Maskimovich. Then Mitchell Weeks denies Justin Addamo, who is looking for a hatty. In the last five minutes, Indy fought hard with double the shots on goal compared to Wheeling, pulling goalie Mitchell Weeks in the last two minutes, making a grave mistake allowing Nailers Matt Koopman to create an empty net goal, making it 4-2 with 51.9 seconds left in the period. The Nailers close the game, heading to the Central Division playoffs championship game. 

The Wheeling Nailers are gearing up for a crucial match with the Toledo Walleyes on Friday, May 3rd. This game is not just another match. It’s a battle that will test the Nailers’ mettle. The Walleyes are a formidable opponent, with a 4-0 record in the postseason and a strong performance in the regular season. They closed the regular season with a 48-14-4 record, maintaining a PP average of 25% and a PK average of 81.3%. Toledo has advanced to the postseason for the last eight consecutive seasons, a testament to their consistency and skill. The Nailers must bring their A-game and step up their strategy to take down this team. The anticipation is high as we wait to see how this game unfolds. They meet Friday, May 3rd, for game one of round two of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. 

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Stephanie DeLaFleur

Beat Writer covering the ECHL Savannah Ghost Pirates, NHL Vegas Golden Knights and AHL Henderson Silver Knights. Follow me on X @StephiDelafleur

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