To the surprise of nobody and the chagrin of the Indy Fuel, Sam Warning once again delivered in the clutch.
Warning jumped on the puck at center ice and beat Fuel goaltender Collin Delia on the backhand 28 seconds into overtime to give the Quad-City Mallards a 2-1 win over the Fuel Sunday at the TaxSlayer Center.
Warning has the last three overtime game-winning goals in the regular season for the Mallards and also scored the game-winner in overtime of Game 4 of last year's playoff series against the Fort Wayne Komets.
"Somehow we find a way to win but that was a team effort," Warning said. "We're not going to be beating teams by five or six goals, we're going to be winning the hard way and I think coming down the stretch, when playoffs come, that's how you win games, by one or two goals. If we start doing it now, it gets us ready for the end of the season."
The goal was Warning's 10th of the season, tied for second in the league and was also Warning's 50th of his career.
"He's really on fire right now, there's no doubt about it," defenseman Alexander Kuqali said. "I definitely think he's an elite player in this league and definitely has the potential to play up (in the AHL) too. He's one of the key guys on our team. He plays good offense obviously but he really takes care of the D-zone. He really does everything well and I'm really happy for him."
Warning is doing so much more than just scoring nearly a goal per game for the Mallards. He stood up for himself Saturday night, getting into a fight with Nathan Noel after his second goal of the game, then stood up for a teammate Sunday.
After Ryan Rupert put a dangerous hit on Justin Kovacs in the second period, Warning was the first of the other four Mallards on the ice to challenge Rupert in the defense of his longtime teammate.
"I think that's just all part of hockey. I think anybody would do that for anybody on the team, we've got to stick up for one another," Warning said. "Kovacs is one of my best friends on the team so it was a no-brainer."
Kovacs played one shift after the hit but didn't return for the third period and head coach Phil Axtell didn't indicate if he would miss any time moving forward.
Rupert was given a five-minute major penalty as well as a game misconduct for charging while Warning received two minutes for roughing, but the message was well-received up and down the Mallards' lineup.
"I think it's just a good way for our team to show we're coming together," Kuqali said. "This was a huge game for us today. You're grinding it out, it's a 1-1 game and you see a guy like Sam Warning step in, ready to fight, I think it just shows we're putting our identity together as a team."
Kovacs helped get the Mallards on the board, firing a shot that was tipped past Delia by Brayden Low for a power play goal at 8:07 in the first period. Low has scored in each of the last three games for the Mallards.
Zach Miskovic answered for the Fuel, burying a one-timer past Mallards goaltender Ivan Kulbakov at 13:25 in the first.
From then on, the Mallards had to weather the rough, physical play from the Fuel which not only included the hit on Kovacs, but several other tough plays throughout the game.
Kulbakov made 35 saves in net for his sixth win of the season while Delia made 30 saves in his sixth loss.
"I liked the effort, we executed better in the D-zone getting pucks out, we were better getting pucks in," Axtell said. "I'm really happy with the effort."