BLOOMINGTON - It could have been a defining victory for a team that was missing three skaters and poised to make a big move in the playoff chase. | Photo gallery
Instead, the Bloomington PrairieThunder allowed two goals early in the third period and watched an apparent game-tying goal with 9.9 seconds remaining get waved off by referee Mike McCreary because the net was out of its moorings.
The costly combination enabled Muskegon to escape with a 3-2 International Hockey League win Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Coliseum. It also left Bloomington coach Derek Booth incensed over the Thunder's inability to finish a game that was tied 1-1 after two periods.
"I didn't get a ruling (on the waved-off goal), but it doesn't matter," Booth said. "We gave a game away tonight. I'm very, very disappointed in the third-period effort. Again, we get to the third period and give ourselves opportunities and we don't close it.
"It's very unfortunate. That's all I've got to say about it."
Muskegon (27-22-3), which currently holds the fourth and final playoff berth in the IHL, increased its lead over fifth-place Kalamazoo to five points. Last-place Bloomington (21-29-4) fell 11 points behind the Fury while remaining six behind Kalamazoo, which suffered a 5-3 loss to Flint Wednesday.
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Thunder center Leo Thomas, who said he didn't see the waved-off goal, agreed with Booth's assessment of the loss.
"We shouldn't have been in that position anyway," Thomas said. "Going into the third with a tie game we've got to come out better than that. We definitely can't give up two goals.
"We played a good game until the third period. That kind of stuff has been hurting us all year."
Muskegon, playing without its top three scorers (Mike Watt, Robin Bouchard and Billy Collins), took the lead on goals by Sheldon Wing at 6:33 and Justin Rohr at 9:05 of the third.
Bloomington got within one at 9:42 when Jon Booras scored off assists from Rod Aldoff and Casey Handrahan. The Thunder was missing Blake Stewart (illness), Bobby Kukulka (illness) and Pascal Bedard (family reasons). Defenseman Jeff Ewasko was also serving the final game of a three-game suspension.
"They're short-handed, we're short-handed," said Muskegon coach Bruce Ramsay. "I thought both teams battled hard, and we pulled it out at the end. Give my guys credit. You're looking at a combined 150 points we were missing.
"We have a lot of young people not used to getting ice time who stepped up to the plate and played well. All three of our goals were scored by rookies. It was a big, gutsy effort by our guys. It's coming to that time of year where every point is vital."
After a scoreless first period, Thomas put the Thunder on the board at 13:16 of the second when he scored off assists from Don Parsons and recently acquired Neil Clark.
Muskegon pulled even less than four minutes later on a goal by Adam Bartholomay, who connected on a backhander from the circle against a screened Thunder goalie Loic Lacasse.
Lacasse stopped 19 of 22 shots. Clayton Pool, the IHL's reigning Goaltender of the Week, had 16 saves to earn the win.
"It was a tough one tonight," Thomas said. "K-zoo lost and that could have put us in a great position going into this weekend. We just have to come back this weekend and get some wins."
The Thunder visit league-leading Fort Wayne at 7 p.m. Friday.
Muskegon…0…1… 2 - 3
Bloomington…0 … 1 1 - 2
First Period - None.
Second Period - Bloomington, Thomas (Parsons, Clark), 13:16; Muskegon, Bartholomay (Riedel, Hardwick).
Third Period - Muskegon, Wing (Cadotte), 6:33; Muskegon, Rohr (Zalba, Van Drunen), 9:05; Bloomington, Booras (Aldoff, Handrahan), 9:42.
Shots on goal - Muskegon 7-7-8-22; Bloomington 7-4-6-18.
Penalties - minutes - Muskegon 5-13; Bloomington 4-11.
Power play opportunities - Muskegon 0 of 2; Bloomington 0 of 3.
Goalies - Muskegon - Pool (18 shots, 16 saves, 60:00); Bloomington - Lacasse (22 shots, 19 saves, 58:40).
Attendance - 2,455
Referee - McCreary. Linesmen - Oliver, Ritter.