By Dave Hart
MUSKEGON- The Muskegon Lumberjacks had many chances to put Friday night’s game in the victory column much earlier than they did.
But luckily for the Lumberjacks, talented forward Danil Gushchin was there to save the day.
With 54 seconds remaining in overtime, Gushchin stole the puck in front of the Fargo net and scored to give the Jacks a 5-4 victory over the Force in front of 2,375 fans at Muskegon’s Mercy Health Arena.
The Lumberjacks are now 20-21-5 on the season, good for 45 points and sixth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference, with 16 games remaining in the regular season.
Muskegon will try to sweep the weekend series with another home game against the Force on Saturday at 7:05 p.m.
“Both teams lost composure at points there, and it was just a roller coaster ride,” said Lumberjacks Coach Mike Hamilton about the ugly contest, which included 38 penalty minutes for Muskegon and 32 for Fargo. “The best part is we stayed with it and found a way to get two points.
“Our power play is inexcusable with the talent we have. We are not getting enough shots and I really don’t think there is enough intensity.”
The Jacks had nine power play opportunities throughout the game and failed to score on any of them. Meanwhile, they gave up two short-handed goals.
Rhett Pitlick opened the scoring for the Lumberjacks at the 10:17 mark of the first period.
Fargo tied the game at 15:48 of the first when Tristan Broz scored when his team had a two-skater advantage.
Fargo took its only lead of the contest at the 17:25 mark of the first period when Mason Salquist found the net, just after the Lumberjacks had killed off a penalty.
The Jacks tied the game 2-2 with 47 seconds left in the first with a goal from Iivari Rasanen.
Both teams produced 15 shots on goal during the eventful opening stanza.
The Lumberjacks grabbed a 3-2 lead when Cameron Berg scored his 18th goal of the season 5:25 into the second period.
Muskegon increased its advantage to 4-2 with a shorthanded tally from Pitlick at the 8:36 mark of the second. Pitlick’s second goal of the contest was his 16th of the season.
The Force responded with a shorthanded goal of their own, from Ondrej Pavel, at the 12:37 mark of the second period.
The Lumberjacks led 4-3 at the second intermission, while holding a slight 24-22 shot advantage.
But they relinquished that lead in painful fashion, allowing their second shorthanded goal of the contest from Pavel, this one at the 13:42 mark of the third period to tie the game 4-4.
Muskegon had to great opportunity to regain the lead 24 seconds after the game-tying goal, when it had a two-man advantage for 55 seconds, but failed to capitalize.
Regulation ended in a 4-4 tie, forcing a five-minute overtime period.
The Lumberjacks won the game on Gushchin’s goal 4:07 into the overtime period.
Muskegon outshot the Force by a 33-29 margin. Jonathon Williams stopped 25 shots in net for the Lumberjacks to get the win.
Gushchin had two assists for Muskegon, while Alex Gaffney, Artem Shlaine and Tanner Kelly each had one.