MUSKEGON, MI – The Muskegon Lumberjacks played like a team happy to be home Friday night.
The Lumberjacks, playing their first home game since February 23, absolutely shut Des Moines down for the first 40 minutes in front of 2,796 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The Buccaneers rallied in the third period, but Ryan Savage’s empty-net goal with 17 seconds remaining secured a 4-2 win for the hosts.
“All the way around we played a pretty solid hockey game,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. “The guys adjusted well on the fly and played a really good 2 ½ periods.”
Muskegon (36-13-3-1) improved its season point total to 76, which is 14 more than second-place Chicago. Muskegon’s magic number to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference is down to 10 thanks to Youngstown’s 4-3 win over Chicago Friday.
The matchup between the Lumberjacks and Des Moines (29-18-1-4, fourth place in the West) was supposed to be a wide-open affair, but the hosts made it one-sided in the first two periods.
Muskegon held the Buccaneers to just four shots on goal in the first period and seven in the second period and held a 3-0 lead through 40 minutes.
Mikael Hakkarainen got the hosts on the board 5:27 into the game with assists going to Cam McDonald and Egor Afanasyev. The 1-0 lead remained for the next 20 minutes until Bobby Lynch struck again for the hosts at 6:04 of the second period.
Lynch’s 19th, which equaled Hakkarainen’s goal total, came from Nic Belpedio and Oliver MacDonald.
Not five minutes later Savage made it 3-0 in favor of the hosts from Alex Yakovenko and MacDonald.
The shots on goal total through two periods favored the hosts 26-11 and the scoreboard said 3-0 Muskegon.
“I can’t even say great it was great defense, it was just good offense,’ Hamilton said. “Our puck possession was like 60-65 percent, and a good offense is a good defense. A couple of mistakes in the third made it way closer than it needed to be, but we got the job done.”
Des Moines busted loose for 20 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes, but didn’t get on the scoreboard until 6:06 remained in the game.
Patrick Schmiedlin took advantage of a turnover to get the Bucs on the board, then Mac Welsher made it 3-2 two minutes later, prompting Hamilton to call timeout.
The Lumberjack did survive the last 4:04, and Savage made sure win No. 36 went into the record books with his empty-netter.
Bussi made 29 saves to earn the win. Roman Durny made 23 saves for the guests.
Neither team scored a power play goal. Muskegon was 0-for-3 and Des Moines was 0-2 with the man advantage.
Muskegon, which has just nine games left in the regular season, goes for the weekend sweep over the same Buccaneers Saturday night at 6:15 p.m.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.