By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
The Lumberjacks rallied with a late goal to force overtime against the first-place Chicago Steel.
But Chicago’s Mitch Lewandowski scored with 1:35 left in the extra session to give the Steel a 3-2 victory in front of 3,410 disappointed fans at L. C. Walker Arena.
The Lumberjacks are now 26-14-4 on the season. They dropped to fourth place in the USHL’s tight Eastern Conference race, one point behind third-place Youngstown, two points behind second-place Dubuque and six behind Chicago.
The Lumberjacks and Steel will have a rematch tomorrow at 4 p.m. EST in Chicago.
The Lumberjacks have struggled to score for three straight games – all at home – and as a result have lost two of them.
Last Saturday they couldn’t find the net in a 2-0 loss to Des Moines. On Friday they rallied for two goals, including a late game-winner by Austin Alger, to steal a 2-1 victory over Youngstown.
On Saturday they took an early lead with a goal by Colin Adams 59 seconds into the first period, gave up two goals, then tied the game with 1:07 left in regulation on a dramatic goal by Garrett Van Wyhe.
But in the end it wasn’t enough. The bottom line is that the Jacks have only scored four goals in the last three games. That won’t do for a team that’s in hot pursuit of the top spot in their conference.
The Lumberjacks failed to take advantage of power play opportunities for the second straight night. On Friday they only cashed in once on five chances, and on Saturday they failed to score on three power plays.
“It’s a tough league and you are going to go through those funks,” LaFontaine said. “We played the number one defensive team last night, and we played the number two defensive team tonight. Neither team gives up many shots or goals.”
The night started out promising when Adams scored his 21st goal of the season on a breakaway, just 59 seconds into the game. The Lumberjacks led 1-0 after one period.
Chicago took the lead with a pair of goals in the second period, from Jack Badini on a power play at the 10:04 mark, and Marc Johnstone at the 13:14 mark.
Chicago dominated offensively through the first two periods, outshooting the Jacks 24-14.
The Lumberjacks woke up the third period, outshooting the Steel 12-6, but didn’t get the game-tying goal until Van Wyhe found the net with 1:07 left.
“We started putting pucks on net, we started getting more possessions and more shots going, and that’s how we are capable of playing,” LaFontaine said. “If we played like we did in the third it would have been a different game.”
The Jacks had a golden opportunity to win in overtime when Chicago’s Badini was called for a high-sticking penalty at 2:06, giving the Jacks a 4-on-3 power play for two minutes.
But Muskegon failed to cash in, allowing Chicago to settle the matter on the goal by Lewandowski.
Chicago outshot the Jacks 33-30 in the game. Steel goalie Ales Stezka got the win, while Lumberjacks goalie Adam Brigzala took the loss, despite turning in a solid performance.