By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Lumberjacks secured a playoff berth on Friday, but they still have a lot to play for in the last few games of regular season.
For one thing, they would love to finish a bit higher in the Eastern Conference standings – realistically second place – to gain home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
They also want to keep putting on a show for the big home crowds they’ve been drawing lately.
They took a positive step in both directions Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Des Moines in front of 3,814 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
Forward Tom Marchin led the way with two goals and an assist while goalie Eric Schierhorn stopped 37 shots.
The victory, Muskegon’s fourth straight, completed a weekend sweep of the Buccaneers and moved the Jacks a bit closer to second place.
The Lumberjacks improved to 33-18-4, good for 70 points in the standings. They remain tied with Dubuque for third place, but both teams moved within four points of second-place Cedar Rapids, which lost to Dubuque on Saturday.
The Jacks have five games left in the regular season. They resume action with a Sunday matinee game at 3:30 p.m. in Ann Arbor against Team USA.
“I thought we were kind of sloppy but we found a way to get a win,” said Muskegon Coach Todd Krygier. “I thought Schier (Schierhorn) did a good job again, but we gave up too many odd-man rushes and offensive chances. We have to tighten it up.
“But I thought the effort was good. Overall we got two wins, so I’m happy about that. Some are uglier than others.”
The Jacks were also happy to get two wins in front of two big crowds. Saturday’s attendance brought the weekend total to an impressive 6,643.
“I think our front office staff has worked real hard getting the message out and getting people out to the games,” Krygier said. “We’re grateful for all the fans who have been coming out. This is a community that’s had hockey here a lot of years, and they want to embrace a good team and a bunch of guys that work hard.”
The Jacks picked up where they left off Friday, controlling the game from the opening minutes.
Muskegon’s Mark Petaccio gave the Jacks a 1-0 lead at 13:43 of the opening period, with assists from Marchin and Ryan Siroky.
Des Moines knotted the score at 4:21 of the second period when Joe Lappin popped a rebound past Schierhorn from the left circle.
The Jacks went back on top 2-1 when Marchin redirected a shot from the right side of the net at 13:24 of the second period. Siroky and Griffen Molino were credited with assists.
The Lumberjacks opened the third period on a power play, and Molino quickly cashed in when he took a pass from Matej Paulovic to the right of the Des Moines goal and chipped the puck in, putting Muskegon up 3-1.
Marchin completed the scoring with an open net goal at 17:34 of the third period.
Shots on goal were even at 38-38.