Nailers drop playoff series opener to Fuel, 5-2 | News, sports, jobs

INDIANAPOLIS – The Wheeling Nailers began their 2024 Kelly Cup Playoff journey on Friday night as they opened a best-of-7 series against the Indy Fuel. After taking the season lead with seven goals, Indy’s Kyle Maksimovich played a big role in his team’s success in Game 1 as he recorded two goals and an assist.

The Fuel scored twice in a span of 57 seconds during the second period to take a two-goal lead, eventually advancing to the 5–2 win at Indiana Farmers Coliseum.

The series started with a bang, as the two teams that played eleven times in the regular season were ready to spread the hate. Gloves hit the ice just 3:57 into the game, when Justin Lee challenged Brett Bulmer after a collision between Lee and Kale Howarth along the glass.

Some more physicality led to the opening goal, with the Fuel capitalizing on the man advantage. Zach Jordan carried the puck through the middle of the offensive zone and tried to work his way toward the goal. Maksimovich followed his teammate and knocked in a loose puck for the count.

Wheeling scored his first goal of the postseason at 1:21 of the middle frame.

Tanner Laderoute deflected a pass off the right board to Davis Bunz, who stepped into a slap shot and placed it in the top left corner of the cage. Indy regained its lead after 5:07.

Bryan Lemos stole a Nailers pass and broke into the right circle, where he fired a wrist shot into the bottom left corner of the net. 57 seconds later, Maksimovich struck for the second time. Colin Bilek launched a pass into center ice, where Maksimovich knocked the ball to himself, rushed in and fired a shot into the left side of the goal. A second steal from Lemos led to a third goal in the stanza for the Fuel, as he sent Andrew Bellant in behind the defense on the right side. Bellant tried to cut towards the goal and ended up dribbling a shot through Jaxon Castor’s legs.

Both sides found their way in the third period. Dillon Hamaliuk pulled Wheeling within two at the 11:05 mark, when he knocked in a one-time feed from Jordan Martel in the bottom of the right circle. That marker came during a 4-on-3 power play. The Nailers gained another man advantage later in the tilt, but Indy put an end to it, adding an insurance goal for the 5-2 final score, when Maksimovich delivered a one-timer to Howarth on the right side of the slot.

Mitchell Weeks picked up the win in goal for the Fuel as he made 18 saves on 20 shots. Castor turned away 26 of the 31 shots he faced in his playoff debut for the Nailers.

The Nailers and Fuel will play game two of their Central Division semifinal series in Indy on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. The series then shifts to WesBanco Arena for games three and four on Monday and Tuesday at 7:10 p.m.

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