By Dave Hart and Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – There’s no doubt that the Muskegon Lumberjacks are playing much better these days.
The Lumberjacks have yet to win a game when the other team scores first. That trend continued on Saturday when the Dubuque Fighting Saints jumped out to a two-goal first period lead, then held on for a 5-3 victory over Muskegon in front of 2,450 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The loss ended Muskegon’s winning streak at five games. The Jacks fell to 7-7 on the season while first place Dubuque improved to 10-6.
The Jacks didn’t have much of a chance to gain an early lead, since the Fighting Saints got the first 12 shots on goal and emerged from the first period with a 2-0 lead.
Muskegon did fight back, pulling within one goal, 4-3, with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the game.
But a late hooking penalty against the Jacks kept them from gaining a one-man advantage when they pulled their goalie in the final minutes.
“We knew they were going to come out flying,” said Lumberjacks Coach Todd Krygier, whose team beat Dubuque on Friday night. “We needed to be better and ready to play, and at the end of the day the guys have to be accountable of how they start the game and how they play.”
Dubuque’s Colin Theisen opened the scoring on the ninth shot of the game at the 3:14 mark of the first period.
The Fighting Saints, who had a 22-11 shot advantage during the opening frame, took a 2-0 lead midway into the first period on a goal by Casey Johnson.
Muskegon answered 35 seconds later on a goal from Chris Klack, and trailed 2-1 at the first intermission. Mitch Eliot and Collin Adams assisted on the tally.
Dubuque regained its two-goal lead on a power play goal from Keegan Ford at the 4:51 mark of the second period.
The Lumberjacks responded with a power play goal at 7:53 by Dante Palecco to cut the deficit to 3-2. Laine McKay and Will Graber assisted.
Dubuque’s Trey Dodd gave the Fighting Saints a 4-2 lead with a goal at the 12:18 mark of the second period.
Muskegon gained a two-man advantage late in the third period when they pulled their goalie following a Dubuque penalty. Matej Paulovic cashed in on the situation when he scored on a slap shot from the right circle at the 17:28 mark, pulling the Jacks within one.
But the Lumberjacks committed a crucial hooking penalty with two minutes remaining, so they couldn’t gain an advantage when they pulled their goalie again.
Dubuque’s Evan Smith capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with five seconds remaining.
Muskegon was outshot 45-38.