By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON – Most say sports are a game of inches. On Saturday night it was a game of seconds for the Muskegon Lumberjacks who fell 3-1 to visiting Des Moines. 

The Lumberjacks fell behind early, gave up a last second goal to close the first period, couldn’t find the net in a game they controlled on the offensive end and then gave up an open net goal just before time ran out.

Muskegon is now 36-14-4 on the season, good for 76 points and first place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. They are 12 points ahead of Chicago and Cedar Rapids, which are both tied for second place.

Muskegon will continue its home stand next Friday against the Youngstown Phantoms. Puck drop will be at 7:15 p.m.

“We competed hard but we just have to find a way to put these shots away,” said Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton. “At the end of the day we have to do a better job at getting more traffic at the net.”

The Buccaneers jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal from Michael Mancinelli at the 6:05 mark of the first period.

Muskegon tied the game 1-1 on a tally from Alex Gaffney at the 10:57 mark of the first period.

Des Moines regained its lead at 2-1 with just two seconds left in the first period on a goal by Reed Lebster.

“You can’t give up a goal with less than three seconds left,” said Hamilton. “That goal haunted us and we never recovered from it.”

The Lumberjacks had two second period power plays but failed to score on both, keeping the score at 2-1 in favor of the Buccaneers heading into the final stanza.

Muskegon continued to fire on all cylinders during the third period, outshooting the Buccaneers by a 9-3 margin, but once again failed to put the tying goal into the net.

The Buccaneers closed out scoring with an empty net goal by Rylee St. Onge with eight seconds remaining in the game.

The Lumberjacks outshot Des Moines by a 34-17 margin.

The Buccaneers backup goalie James Durham stopped 33 shots in net to record his fifth victory of the season.

Brandon Bussi stopped 14 of 16 shots he faced in net for the Lumberjacks.