INDIANAPOLIS — Sparked by two timely goals from red-hot forward Kyle Bonis, the Walleye put a stranglehold on their opening-round series with Indy on Wednesday night.
Toledo rallied from an early deficit against a determined Fuel team and registered a crushing 3-1 victory at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Indy Fuel forward Michael Neal battles for a loose puck with Toledo Walleye forward Colin Jacobs during Game 3 of the Central Division semifinals at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis.
WHITESHARK PHOTOGRAPHY Enlarge
Bonis scored twice and netted the game-winner with 11 minutes, 52 seconds left in regulation to break a 1-1 deadlock in Game 3 of the Central Division semifinals.
The Walleye, who trailed 1-0 just minutes into the game, now lead the best-of-7 series 3-0.
“Desperation is really tough to match,” Bonis said. “They came out hard tonight. We weathered the storm and then got back to it and took the game over.”
On the decisive goal, Walleye defenseman Beau Schmitz lifted a perfect pass in midair from his own zone, over center ice, and hit Bonis in stride. Bonis, who has three goals and four assists in the playoffs, finished with a perfectly placed shot.
“It’s funny as the play was developing, I think we both knew what was going to happen,” Bonis said. “I saw him open up his blade, and I just took off. I knew that was what he was going to do. We were laughing when we got to the bench because it was like a Titleist. It kind of just stopped and stuck. You just have to shoot it, and it knuckled in.”
VIDEO: Walleye 3, Fuel 1
Walleye goalie Pat Nagle nearly single-handedly kept his team in the game with 12 saves, including a few stellar stops, on 13 shots in the opening period. Nagle finished with 31 saves before a crowd of 2,404.
“We didn’t come out strong,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “But again we’ve got Nags back there for us, who stands up tall. Then we got into our game plan. Part of that is wearing them down. They were tired in the third period, and we capitalized on a couple mistakes.”
A.J. Jenks added an empty-net goal with 52 seconds left.
Toledo can finish the series with a sweep. Game 4 is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Thursday in Indianapolis.
“It’s enormous,” Nagle said. “Now we have a chance to close them out. It will be the toughest game yet [Thursday], but each game we’ve gotten stronger. I’m proud of our guys.”
The Fuel went 0 of 5 with the man advantage as the Walleye shut down the Fuel’s potent power play.
“It’s huge for our [penalty kill] to shut them down like that,” Watson said. “It gives our guys confidence. It gives us momentum. And again, your best penalty killer is your goaltender.”
Toledo gave up a goal in the early stages of the game and trailed 1-0 after the first period. But the Walleye tied it at 1 on Bonis’ power-play goal with 13:42 left in the second.
Down a goal, the Walleye cashed in on a golden opportunity early in the second period when they had a 5-on-3 power play advantage for 1:26.
Bonis zipped a shot up over Indy goalie Etienne Marcoux’s shoulder to knot it at 1 with 13:42 left in the second period. Watson credited Jenks for blocking Marcoux’s sight line. Marcoux, who was strong again, finished with 34 saves.
“Bonis is a shooter and the life that can give you to see guys like that score goals,” Watson said.
Indy had grabbed an instant lead 2:20 into the game.
Mathew Thompson scored on a rebound after Nagle made the first stop on a shot by Michael Neal. Indy went up 1-0 on its fourth shot of the game with 17:40 left in the first.
Somehow Nagle then kept the puck out of his net around the 14-minute mark of the first period as he made two amazing stops on a series of point-blank chances by Johnny McInnis, who thought he had scored.
Toledo continued to live dangerously in the first period, allowing the Fuel’s top-ranked power play to have two chances, but the Walleye killed off both. Toledo was outshot 13-8 in the first period and could have trailed by more than one if not for a solid performance from Nagle.
Nagle kept it a one-goal game with a stop on a one-timer from Alex Wideman.
Bonis said shutting down the Fuel’s power play, which accounted for two goals in Toledo’s 4-3 win on Sunday, was huge.
“We probably have the best penalty killer in the league in Nags. He’s something else. He gives us so much confidence,” Bonis said.
Toledo turned the tables and took over in the second. The Walleye scored early in a two-man advantage to knot it at 1 as Bonis scored on assists from Simon Denis and Tyler Barnes.
Watson said the game-winner was set up by a great, heads-up play by Schmitz.
“He sees Bones streaking and he just laid it out there for him to skate into,” Watson said.
VIDEO: Walleye goalie Pat Nagle
Barnes added to his team lead with his two assists and now has eight points in the postseason.
“Those guys are expected to come up big and they have,” Watson said.
Watson pointed out that the Walleye rallied from a 3-0 deficit in their series against South Carolina in 2015 to send it to a Game 7.
“It’s huge, but we can’t rest on it,” Watson said. “They’re still going to give it their all. We’ve been in those situations. When you’re playing desperate hockey, it can bring out the best in a hockey team. We have to be prepared and get off to a great start.”
FISH TALES: The game started about 10 minutes late after the Zamboni left a puddle and slush in the Walleye end. The ice crew cleaned it up quickly, however.
■ Indy D Garrett Clarke, who was suspended for Sunday's game, did not play on Wednesday.
■ A lucky fan won $50,000 when he scored on a shot from center ice into a small slot during the second intermission.
■ Shane Berschbach, the team's all-time leading scorer, does not yet point in the series. He had a tip shot right in front, but Marcoux made the save early in the third to keep it tied. Nagle then made two good saves at the other end as it remained knotted at 1.
■ In the first period, the Walleye's Colin Jacobs was called for embellishment (diving) after he was slashed by the Fuel's Chris Rygus. Neither team scored on the ensuing 4 on 4.
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