A season of milestones for the Janesville Jets continued Friday night.
They won their first North American Hockey League playoff series in franchise history.
Zach LaValle's goal with less than eight minutes left gave the Jets the lead for good in a back-and-forth affair, and two late empty-net goals helped Janesville sweep the Michigan Warriors following a 7-4 win in Flint, Michigan.
The Jets will open a best-of-five division final series against the Soo Eagles on Friday night at the Janesville Ice Arena.
“It was literally talked about for 10 seconds. We said, 'You're the first team to win a playoff series for the Jets, now let's turn the page,'” Janesville head coach Joe Dibble said. “With the way we played tonight, I don't know if we deserved to win. But the power play carried us through.”
Janesville and Michigan traded goals—and the lead—in the first period before settling for a 2-2 tie.
Michigan regained the lead with less than six minutes left in the second, but Brandon Schultz scored his first goal of the game and Zach Yoder followed less than 90 seconds later to give the Jets the lead after two.
The Jets went 3-for-4 on the power play to offset a gritty effort from the Warriors.
“I think it was pretty obvious whoever watched the game, that's the toughest and hardest the Warriors have played us,” Dibble said. “They owned us on the physical side of the game. I think our guys definitely got a wake-up call as to what can happen.”
The Warriors again tied the game at 3:20 of the third. It was the first time since Halloween night that Jets goalie Matt Jurusik gave up four goals in a game, but he still found a way to win his 27th straight decision.
Zach LaValle took a feed from Schultz and Evan Feno on the power play and scored with 7:56 remaining to give Janesville the lead for good.
Schultz and Zach Solow each had empty-netters late. Schultz finished with two goals and an assist, while Solow and LaValle each had two points.
Soo, which went on the road to beat Keystone twice last weekend, returned home Friday for a 3-1 victory to earn the sweep in the other North Division semifinal series.
The Jets were 10-2 against the Eagles during the regular season, with one of the losses coming in the very first game of the year and the other coming in early March. The Jets have won nine straight games since that loss.
“It's going to be a war. There's a lot of bad blood between the two teams,” Dibble said of the matchup with Soo. “We wouldn't want it any other way. I would say our team wants to go through the Soo to get out of our division.”
JANESVILLE 7, MICHIGAN 4
Janesville 2 2 3—7
Michigan 2 1 1—4
J—Cullen Munson (Zach Solow, Ian Janco), 6:51. M—Derek Frentz (Garrison Sanipass, Dalton Skelly), 8:03. M—AJ Marcinek (Cam Jorgensen), 10:48. J—Drew Callin (Grant Hutton, Munson), pp, 19:30.
M—Cody Kuster (Marcinek), 14:01. J—Brandon Schultz (Alex Smith, Evan Feno), pp, 18:14. J—Zach Yoder (Zach LaValle), 19:42.
M—Alex Berardinelli (Colin Horton, Tyler Groat), 3:20. J—LaValle (Schultz, Feno), pp, 12:04. J—Schultz, en, 18:31. J—Solow, en, 19:54.
Saves—Matt Jurusik (J) 29, Chase Munroe (M) 36.