INDIANAPOLIS — A seemingly impossible comeback effort fell just short, but the Quad-City Mallards still clinched a playoff berth.
The Mallards gave up six goals in the first period before falling 8-7 to the Indy Fuel on Sunday at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Though the Mallards lost, they clinched their fifth straight playoff berth with Tulsa's 3-2 overtime loss to the Toledo Walleye later in the day.
Head coach Phil Axtell wasn't focused on that result, only on the Mallards' road game Wednesday against the Wichita Thunder.
"It is what it is. That's math, we do hockey," he said. "We'll try to stick to the gameplan, try and execute and be prepared. Get our rest, recuperate and recover so that we're firing on all cylinders come Wednesday."
The Mallards remain seven points back of the Fort Wayne Komets for second place and maintain a four-point lead over Kalamazoo for third place in the Central Division.
Both teams were playing their third game in 41 hours, but the Mallards had to travel to Indiana while the Fuel stayed at home after Saturday's game.
The fatigue hit the Mallards early as the Fuel scored four goals in the first 10 minutes to chase goaltender C.J. Motte.
"Guys didn't get in their rooms until after 5 a.m. in the morning, with a 2 p.m. game," Axtell said. "Played two hard games against Missouri and a quick turnaround, (Indy) got to sleep in their own beds, get their own meals. I'll take blame for that, I should have had them out of bed earlier, go for a team walk. I think they were still half asleep when they got to the rink."
Adam Vay relieved Motte, but the Fuel took advantage of Vay playing his third game in three days, scoring two more goals to end the period.
"It will teach us that we have to be mentally prepared, no matter what the circumstances are," Axtell said. "We knew what our effort was tonight so better it comes down to something like that at the end of the game we know we'll have to do that much more to be successful."
The Mallards started their comeback in the second period. Guillaume Gelinas scored 1:04 into the period, then Sam Warning added a pair, including a shorthanded goal to make the deficit 6-3 after two periods.
Gelinas added his second goal of the game before Nick Bligh gave Indy a 7-4 lead at 6:44 in the period.
Warning completed the hat trick at 7:35, his second of the season, then Chase Lang brought the Mallards within one, 7-6 at 13:26.
Kenny Ryan completed his hat trick, scoring an empty-net goal at 17:50, but the Mallards had one last gasp, grabbing a goal from Justin Kovacs with 18.3 seconds remaining.
The Mallards pulled Vay again but couldn't get the equalizing goal past Jake Hildebrand in the closing seconds.
"To score that amount of goals in two period, you're going to have to take chances to make up the six goal differential. It was great to see. We'll learn from it," Axtell said. "I don't think I've ever been with a group of guys, down 6-0 after one and almost sore on the last shift to tie it up."