The Dubuque Fighting Saints gave the USHL’s best team all it could handle Friday night.
Mike Koster scored with 2:16 remaining in overtime to lift the Tri-City Storm to a 4-3 victory at Mystique Community Ice Center. The Storm improved to a league-leading 42-10-2-1, while the Saints moved to 25-21-4-4 and earned a standings point for losing in overtime.
“It’s huge to have a game like this, especially heading into the playoffs,” said Dylan Jackson, who forced overtime with a third period goal. “It’s huge for our confidence, because they’ve been so good all year. They didn’t score 5-on-5, which is huge.
“People are saying we’re hard to play against. That’s the style you need to play in the playoffs. We were relentless, which is something the coaches have been preaching all year.”
Riese Gaber gave Dubuque an early lead on what had become a patented breakaway move. After taking a long outlet pass from Ty Jackson, Gaber separated himself from the Tri-City defense for a one-on-one with goalie Jake Barczewski. Gaber deked Barcewski to the left with a backhand move, then tucked the puck into a wide-open net on his forehand just 1:50 into the game.
Gaber became the second Dubuque skater to reach the 20-goal mark. Matias Maccelli entered the game with 27.
The Saints doubled their lead 15:22 later while on their first power play. James Sanchez took a Maccelli pass in the high slot and wired a wrist shot through traffic and into the top left corner of the net.
Sanchez drew a hooking penalty on Filip Forsmark to put the Saints on the power play. Sanchez scored his third goal in two games since missing a month due to injury. He increased his total to 16 this season.
The Storm cut the deficit in half 4:37 into the second period while on their second power play. Connor McMenamin needed just eight seconds of the man advantage to score a goal set up by Zac Jones and Shane Pinto.
A pivotal sequence later in the period proved to be the turning point. The Storm enjoyed a 5-on-3 power play, with Willie Knierim off for a five-minute major for kneeing and Chris Lipe in the box for roughing.
Brendan Furry scored on the rebound of a Jones shot at the 12:29 mark to tie it. Then, three seconds after Knierim’s major expired, Jones fired a shot through traffic and past goalie Matthew Thiessen for a 3-2 lead.
Tri-City entered the game with a 34-0 record when leading after two periods.
Dubuque tied the game and sent it to overtime on a slick tic-tac-toe passing sequence that ended on a Dylan Jackson backdoor tap into an empty net for his 12th goal of the season. Gaber started the play and fed a trailing Aidan Fulp, who quickly passed to the backdoor.
“I’m proud of our guys for that performance,” Saints coach Oliver David said. “We made some poor decisions in the second period that cost us, but it says a lot about our group that we were able to a get a point after giving up the lead.”