By Dave Hart
MUSKEGON-The Muskegon Lumberjacks have played their best hockey in front of their own fans of late. The squad made sure to continue that success Friday night with a thrilling comeback win.
Muskegon completed the comeback victory 1:26 into the extra period as captain Oliver MacDonald’s game-winning goal lifted the Lumberjacks to a 6-5 home victory against the Lincoln Stars in front of 2,049 fans.
The Jacks have now won five straight games at Mercy Health Arena in Muskegon, with the last defeat coming over a month ago on Dec. 27 against Madison.
Muskegon is currently 17-16-4 on the season, good for 38 points and fifth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.
The Lumberjacks will look for the weekend sweep at home on Saturday night against the Stars. Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m.
“It was a fun ending obviously,” Lumberjacks coach Mike Hamilton said. “It was one of those frustrating nights where every time we take a few good shifts we do something to set us back. The good thing is we didn’t lose our composure and found a way at the end. It was nice that we stayed with it.”
Both teams failed to score during the first period. The Stars outshot Muskegon by a 12-9 margin during the opening stanza.
The Stars opened the scoring 2:50 into the second period when Christian Sarlo scored off a rebound to give Lincoln a 1-0 advantage.
Sarlo increased Lincoln’s lead to 2-0 with a power play goal off a shot that was deflected at the 8:56 mark of the second period.
The Lumberjacks were handed a glorious opportunity to get back into the game just past the halfway mark of the second period after being given a two-man advantage on the power play for 1:34.
Muskegon finally took advantage of the power play, scoring a goal 10:18 into the second period on a goal from Dylan Wendt to cut the deficit to 2-1.
But Lincoln received a power play a little less than two minutes later and responded with a goal from Jordan Power to increase the Stars lead to 3-1.
Coach Hamilton then pulled Lumberjacks starting goaltender Jonathan Williams for backup Eric Green.
“It was nice to see Green ready,” Hamilton said. “He came in and gave us a chance by keeping us in it.”
The Stars added another goal to take a 4-1 lead on a goal by Brad Morrissey as Muskegon’s third power play was just concluding at the 17:26 mark of the middle period.
The Lumberjacks cut the deficit to 4-2 late in the stanza on a short-handed tally by Danil Gushchin 19:24 into the second period.
Lincoln held a 4-2 advantage after two periods while outshooting the Jacks by a 29-16 margin.
The Lumberjacks cut their deficit to 4-3 after Tyler Dunbar scored on a slap shot from the top of the right circle at the 4:34 mark of the third period.
Moments later, though, former Lumberjack Brock Bremer responded with a goal 5:57 into the third period to increase the Stars lead to 5-3.
Muskegon continued its fight, responding with a goal by Iivari Rasanen at the 11:05 mark of the third period to cut the deficit back to a single tally at 5-4.
The Lumberjacks finally tied the game 5-5 on a goal from Rhett Pitlick at the 17:50 mark of the third period to force a five-minute overtime period.
The Stars held a slight 35-34 advantage in shots on goal heading into the extra stanza.
MacDonald propelled the Lumberjacks to a victory with a goal 1:34 into the extra stanza.
“It was a long game,” a relieved MacDonald said after the game. “Nothing has been going in for me lately but it finally squeaked in. I was happy we found a way to get the win.”
Both teams recorded 36 shots on goal.
Green stopped 12-of-14 shots in goal for the Lumberjacks in relief in net. The Lumberjacks were 1-for-3 on the power play and killed four of Lincoln’s six power plays.
Pitlick record four assists for the Lumberjacks, while Gushchin had three helpers. Alex Gaffney, Cameron Berg and Tanner Kelly each chipped in with a single assist.