Toledo forward Erik Bradford figured it was only a matter of time.
The Walleye defeated the Indy Fuel on Wednesday in a lopsided 5-2 contest, but the visitors had an early advantage despite Toledo’s more aggressive offense. The Walleye outshot the Fuel 21-14 in the opening period, but getting around Indy goalkeeper Etienne Marcoux proved tricky. 20 of his 38 total saves came in that first period.
“We were getting some pretty quality chances and [Marcoux] was making saves,” Bradford said. “When that happens, it’s easy to get frustrated, but thankfully we were able to get a couple by him and get rolling. I feel like once we found our legs, we were able to get going.”
The Walleye have earned 12 of their 18 wins this year after scoring first, but they had to play from behind in this one. Fuel forward Alex Wideman squeaked the puck past Toledo goalie Pat Nagle early in the first period, but Bradford and defenseman Simon Denis found Walleye forward Austen Brassard for an equalizing goal just 51 seconds before intermission.
“That was a huge momentum shift for us, just giving us that confidence, that swagger we needed to score goals,” said Walleye coach Dan Watson. “Marcoux played well, so it was just getting one by him. Any time you can get a goal late in the period, it’s massive. It gets guys feeling good about themselves heading into the next period.”
In the remaining two periods, the Walleye broke things open. Shane Berschbach netted a goal early in the second period, with assists from defenseman Kevin Gibson and forward Kyle Bonis. Later that period, it initially seemed as though Fuel forward Johnny McInnis tied the game at two goals apiece with a shot that ricocheted off the post and crossbar, but referee immediately said no goal.
Immediately after, Bradford stumbled on a breakaway but still scored a shorthanded goal, his eighth of the year.
“I think the fall actually messed up Marcoux’s timing,” Watson said. “Strange, strange events, but I think they got it right. Good on the referees for taking their time to review that [sequence]. It was the difference between [the game] being 2-2 or 3-1.”
In the third period, Indy defenseman Zach Miskovic scored on a power play and made it a 3-2 game, but the Walleye iced the game behind defenseman Davis Vandane’s unassisted goal and forward Tyler Barnes’ long goal that met an empty net. Both goals came late in the final period.
By game’s end, Toledo’s Pat Nagle matched Marcoux’s 38 saves, though he had to sweat it out just a little less: The Walleye outshot the Fuel, 43-40.
Toledo's Austen Brassard celebrates scoring a goal with Charlie O'Connor, right, Wednesday at the Huntington Center.
BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
The game came with its excitement despite the final score: With 7:49 in the first period, Sadowy dropped gloves with forward Nathan Noel. Both got five minutes for fighting, but Sadowy didn’t return to play. Watson said his absence had nothing to do with the fight and that he would be day-to-day moving forward, though the coach didn’t specify why.
Then, late in the second period, the Fuel’s Garrett Clarke received a game misconduct penalty for abuse of the officials. Clarke slammed his stick around in the tunnel as he exited.
Clarke was also penalized for holding earlier in the period — he entered the game with 116 penalty minutes this season, by far the most of any player in Wednesday’s game. No Walleye players have even surpassed 50.
Toledo has three games jammed into the remaining four days of 2017, including a road contest at Fort Wayne — the team directly trailing the first-place Walleye in Central Division standings — on New Year’s Eve.
“Rest is key, especially coming back from a break where you’re not really doing much [but] spending time with family,” Bradford said. “We signed up for this and we love to do it. I feel like we’ll be ready.”
FISH TALES: The Fuel signed emergency goalie Kent Nusbaum to their roster Wednesday after rookie Matt Tomkins was recalled by American Hockey League affiliate Rockford IceHogs. Nusbaum is a Temperance, Michigan native, and has appeared on the Walleye roster previously this season. ... The Walleye have beaten the Fuel in all four games this season by a combined 15-7 score. ...Nagle continues to lead the league in wins, now boosting his total to 15.
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