MUSKEGON, MI - The Muskegon Lumberjacks won three straight games in three days on the road a month ago, but since then they've found it tough to gain a weekend sweep.
It didn't look like it would happen on the last weekend of 2018 either, until Igor Larionov and Colby Bukes worked some late game magic Saturday night.
Larionov scored on a rebound with 10.7 seconds left in regulation to knot the game at 3-all, then Bukes buried a shot 2:03 into overtime for a 4-3 OT win Saturday in front of 2,777 exuberant fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
The win completes a weekend sweep over the Capitols, who competed extremely well for a last-place team but only got one point to show for it.
"We're living in a small-sample world," Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said. "I keep saying it, it's really hard to get a win in this league no matter who you're playing. They gave us all we could handle. They played a tight game and were committed to playing defense and a grinding style."
Muskegon's four-point weekend allowed it to increase its lead on the rest of the Eastern Conference.
The Lumberjacks are now up to 45 points while Chicago and Dubuque fight to stay within sight.
Speaking of the Steel, they visit L.C. Walker Arena Monday on the last day of 2018 with a special 8:15 p.m. puck drop.
Due to popular demand, the Box Office and Team Store will be open on Sunday, Dec. 30 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. so that you can take advantage of the opportunity to score tickets for the special New Year's Eve game and after-party before they sell out.
Muskegon split with Dubuque at home on Dec. 7 and 8, then finished 1-1 at Omaha on Dec. 14 and 15 before finishing the sweep this time.
It took a big-time effort to play until the final buzzer to give themselves a chance. Bobby Lynch's shot bounced off Garrett Mackay late in regulation, and Larionov pounced on the rebound and chipped it in to secure at least one point.
"It was a great push by the guys in the last seven minutes," Hamilton said. "I thought we were rewarded. It was good to see guys not get frustrated. I felt we were deserving of at least a point for not giving up."
Muskegon outshot Madison 49-27, including 3-0 in overtime. It had a golden opportunity off the stick of Mikael Hakkarainen earlier in the extra period, but as was the case with several other Lumberjacks chances the puck couldn't find it's way into the twine behind Mackay, who made a whopping 45 saves.
It was quickly forgotten, however, as Egor Afanasyev was able to put Bukes in a good scoring position from the right circle, and Mackay had no shot to stop Bukes' well-placed shot short side.
"We're going through a phase of making goaltenders look good," Hamilton said. "We're either not picking corners or not getting enough traffic in front, but at the end of the day when you send that many pucks to the net good things are bound to happen.
"The tying goal there was nothing pretty about it except sending it towards the net."
Muskegon took two leads in the game, only to see Madison come back each time.
In the opening period Bobby Lynch, who recorded a three-point night, gave the hosts a 1-0 lead 6:37 into the game. Capitol Chase Brand answered nine minutes later.
Larionov again gave the Lumberjacks the lead 11 minutes into the second period, but again Brand had an answer, this time just four minutes later.
Madison took its first lead 11 minutes into the third period thanks to Kalle Eriksson's first goal with Madison. It looked to be the game-winner, except Larionov had the final answer for Muskegon.
Ryan McInchak won in his first start for the Lumberjacks, and became the first Lumberjack goalie to earn a win besides normal starter Brandon Bussi. McInchak made 24 saves.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.