By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – Muskegon Lumberjacks forward Christophe Fillion has spent a good part of the season playing a line with Danil Gushchin and Oliver MacDonald, two guys who have dominated the headlines.
But on Saturday night Fillion got his chance to shine, and it came at a perfect time for the Lumberjacks.
The Jacks rallied twice in the third period to overcome one-goal deficits and force the game to overtime. Then Fillion scored the game winning goal 1:51 into the extra period, giving the Jacks a thrilling 5-4 victory over the Green Bay Gamblers at L.C. Walker Arena.
The victory ended a two-game winless streak for Muskegon, which is now 8-5-1 on the season. It also pulled the Jacks into third place all alone in the USHL Eastern Conference standings, one point ahead of Green Bay.
“I was so happy,” said Fillion, who had two goals in the contest and now has four on the season. “The guys were jumping on me and the fans were buzzing. That was incredible.”
Muskegon Coach Mike Hamilton noted that Fillion took a puck to the face in Friday night’s game, then came back and had a great outing on Saturday.
“He has been a meat and potatoes guy for us,” Hamilton said. “He has been moved up and down the lineup, and today he got an opportunity to play with the top line again and took advantage of it. He is an honest hockey player that plays with a lot of guts.”
The Lumberjacks once again displayed their ability to come from behind. It was the fifth time this season that the Jacks have rallied in a game to gain at least a point in the standings. Four of those games resulted in wins, while the other was an overtime loss.
The Lumberjacks also demonstrated once again that they don’t stay down for long. They lost the first four games of the season, then rebounded with an impressive seven-game win streak. They were winless the last two games, including an ugly four-goal loss on Friday to Green Bay, then responded with the big win on Saturday.
“These guys are a little bit young and dumb, and they just believe it is going to come and they have a lot of confidence,” Hamilton said with a smile. “We could have lost that game and I would have said I was proud of them for how they responded, battling back after being down three times.”
The Lumberjacks came out flying in the first period and outshot the Gamblers 14-7.
Muskegon got on the scoreboard first when Oliver MacDonald, back after serving a one-game suspension, dropped a beautiful pass to Fillion, who deposited the puck in the Green Bay goal on a power play.
The visitors tied the game at 10:42 of the first when Luke Mylymok popped a high shot past Jack Williams, Muskegon’s backup netminder who was getting a start on Saturday.
The second period started out hopeful for the Jacks when a deflected puck found its way into the Green Bay goal at the 2:12 mark. At first the referees waved it off, but a video replay revealed that the goal was good, and Luke Mobley was credited with his sixth goal of the season.
But Muskegon’s 2-1 lead was short-lived. Green Bay broke into the Jacks’ zone with an unopposed two-man breakaway, and Jesse Tucker scored an easy goal at 7:51 to tie the game 2-2
Less than a minute later, Mylymok beat Williams with a shot from a few week inside the blue line, and suddenly the Gamblers had a 3-2 lead after two periods.
Muskegon outshot Green Bay 13-10 in the second period, but wasted six valuable minutes killing off three penalties.
The Jacks tied the game at 4:48 of the third period when Mobley scored his second goal, four seconds after a Green Bay penalty expired.
Green Bay got the lead back, finally cashing in on a power play opportunity after failing to score on their first five. Ryan O’Reilly put the puck in the net at 7:32 of the third, giving the Gamblers a 4-3 lead and leaving the Jacks in the worry zone.
But the Gamblers were called for a four-minute double minor high sticking penalty at 9:11 of the third. The Jacks were killing a penalty at the time, but when that expired they were set to enjoy a power play for 2:17.
They didn’t need that much time, because MacDonald scored at 11:28, just 34 seconds into the power play, tying the game at 4-4.
That led to overtime and Fillion’s dramatic goal. He took a pass from teammate Alex Gaffney and scored on a time-timer from between the faceoff circles, giving the Jacks the win.
“I just came out on the ice and saw Gaffney with the puck in the slot, and I just called for it and wound up for a one-timer,” Fillion said. “The puck stayed on the ice and I don’t know how it went in, but it did.”
Muskegon outshot Green Bay 41-26. Williams improved his record to 3-1 on the season by stopping 22 shots.
The game was marred by a lot of penalties. Green Bay was whistled for 10 infractions and spent 20 minutes in the box, while the Jacks had eight penalties for 16 minutes. The Jacks were 2-for-8 on the power play while the Gamblers were 1-for-7.