By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – Everyone knows a hot goalie is crucial at playoff time.
It helps if the goalie is a little bit angry, as well.
On Friday he more than made up for that performance by stopping 46 of 47 shots, allowing the Lumberjacks to claim a crucial 3-1 victory at L.C. Walker Arena in Game 3 of the USHL Eastern Conference finals.
The Lumberjacks now lead the best 3-of-5 series two games to one, and can finish off Dubuque and earn a spot in the Clark Cup finals with a victory over the Fighting Saints at home on Saturday.
Game 5, if necessary, would be Tuesday in Dubuque.
“I wasn’t happy giving up seven goals in Dubuque,” Schierhorn said. “I knew I couldn’t do that again. I had to do better. Any time you get ran out of the building you think you owe it to your teammates.”
Schierhorn was particularly brilliant in the second and third periods, when the Jacks were outshot by a combined 38-18.
“Schier made some good saves, real timely, some of them from point blank range,” said Muskegon Coach Todd Krygier. “He comes up big every night. Nobody showed up last Saturday.”
Schierhorn got a lot of help from the Lumberajack penalty killing unit, which held Dubuque scoreless on five power plays.
Penalty killing was not a strength for the Jacks during the regular season. They finished 12th out of 17 teams in the league in that category.
“I thought our defense blocked a lot of shots, our penalty kill played well, and we scored a power play goal, too,” Krygier said. “I thought the special teams played well.
“We obviously want to close it out tomorrow. Nobody wants to go back to Dubuque.”
Krygier also credited the calendar for the win. He said the Jacks were exhausted in last Saturday’s loss, following an intense four-game victory over Youngtown in their first round playoff series.
A six-day break before Friday’s game obviously made a big difference. The Jacks emerged like a new team on Friday, outshooting Dubuque 17-9 in the first period and scoring two of their three goals.
They were outshot the rest of the way, but managed to hang on.
“We looked like a whole different team in that first period, then we looked different again in the second, then got back to a better game plan in the third,” Krygier said.
“We played a smart hockey game for two-thirds of the game. In order to close it out tomorrow, we’re going to have to play three good periods, not just two.”
Muskegon’s Tom Marchin opened the scoring with a power play goal at 5:59 of the first period, redirecting a Corey Schueneman shot past Dubuque goalie Jacob Nahama.
Matej Paulovic made it 2-0 at 14:55 of the first period, poking a rebound from a Griffen Molino shot into the Dubuque goal.
The second period could have been disastrous for the Jacks, who were outshot 19-4. But two successful power play kills, along with some great saves by Schierhorn, kept the period scoreless.
“You’ve got to push it across the line,” said Dubuque Coach Matt Shaw, regarding his team’s inability to cash in on its shot advantage in the second period. “There are things we need to do better with a little bit more detail to get it across the line.
“That’s the sort of period we need to play. But we can’t play just one. We’ll have to play three.”
Most of the third period was scoreless, as well, until Dubuque gambled by pulling its goalie for an extra attacker with about three minutes left.
The strategy paid off almost immediately, when the Fighting Saints broke the shutout with a goal from Jacob Benson with 2:58 remaining.
But the Lumberjacks got even just over a minute later, cashing in with an empty-net goal by Molino at the 18:08 mark.
“It got a little scary in the last few minutes, but the important thing is we got the win,” Schierhorn said.