By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – It’s nice to have the league’s hottest goal scorer when your team really needs a win.

The Muskegon Lumberjacks had been in a bit of a funk over the past two games. Last Saturday they lost in Fargo by five goals, and on Friday they blew a lead and lost to Madison, despite cranking out 58 shots on goal.

But Lumberjacks captain Anthony Del Gaizo, who leads the USHL in goals and is second in the overall league scoring race, made sure the losing streak came to a halt on Saturday.

He scored both of the Jacks’ goals in a big 2-1 victory over the Madison Capitols in front of 3,160 fans at L.C. Walker Arena. The victory gave Muskegon a split in the two-game weekend series, and improved their record to 20-17-2 on the season.

The Lumberjacks will return to action on Wednesday night at home against Central Illinois.

Muskegon’s Emilio Pettersen moves the puck along the boards. Photo/Leo Valdez

“It was a good win, we battled hard,” said Del Gaizo, who now has 30 goals in 39 games. “We deserved to win tonight. Last night was a good effort as well, but we didn’t get it done.

“Every single day we think we can win games. We don’t get discouraged by a loss.”

Lumberjacks goalie Keegan Karki also came up big in the game, stopping 33 of 34 shots to improve his record to 14-10 on the season.

Karki was particularly sharp in the third period, when Madison had four power plays, including a two-man advantage at one point, and unleashed 19 shots on goal.

Karki stopped all but one of those shots in the third to nail down the victory for Muskegon.

The win was a positive end to an up-and-down week for Karki. Last Friday on Fargo he registered a shutout, but on Saturday he was lifted after two periods in a 6-1 loss to the Force.

“He was really good tonight,” Lumberjacks Coach John LaFontaine said about Karki. “Last Saturday, the four goals that were scored on him, they were tip-ins from the side. None of them were his fault. In all fairness, he’s playing well. Obviously (last) Friday night he shut Fargo out.”

Marc Del Gaizo looks over Cade Borchardt after the hit. Photo/Leo Valdez

The game was chippy throughout, with lots of penalties, hard hits, pushing and shoving, and one very spirited fight.

Muskegon had eight penalties for 27 minutes while Madison had six for 25 minutes.

All the penalties resulted in five power plays in the first period – three for Muskegon and two for Madison – but neither team cashed in, and the game was scoreless at the first intermission.

Del Gaizo finally cashed in with a goal at 3:03 of the second period, on the Jacks’ fourth power play of the night. Jachym Kondelik and Marc Del Gaizo were credited with assists.

The score remained 1-0 until the 5:13 mark of the third period, when Del Gaizo scored again, this time with assists from Egor Afanasyev and Will Schlagenhauf.

“He doesn’t need much room or space to put the puck in the net,” LaFontaine said about Del Gaizo. “The thing with him is he goes to the net. He doesn’t care if it’s a pretty goal or off his head, he’s just hungry around that net. We need our other guys to learn from that.”

The Lumberjacks had a pair of penalties within two minutes midway through the final period, giving the Capitols a 5-on-3 skater advantage for 49 seconds.

Karki and the Jacks’ penalty-killing unit got out of that jam, but Madison finally broke through with a goal by Ludwig Stenlund with 51 seconds left in the second penalty, making the score 2-1 with 12 minutes left.

But Madison failed to get the equalizer goal, and the Lumberjacks escaped with the big victory.

Muskegon’s penalty-killers did a good job all night, nullifying 6 of 7 Madison power play opportunities.

Madison outshot the Jacks 34-27.