Tuesday, March 22, 2011

USHL 2010-11 Playoff Primer

With the 2010-11 USHL Clark Cup Playoffs just around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to go in-depth and discuss this new format the USHL is trying this season.  Also, I've had a number of blog readers email me and ask where the Stars will end up.  I have been hesitant to write this article because I'm really superstitious and I don't like talking about the playoffs and the Stars unless I'm pretty certain they'll make it.  Although nothing is set in stone, Lincoln has only 7 regular season games remaining, and the Stars are playing some of their best hockey of the season right now.  A lot can happen in these last few weeks of the season,  and there are no guarantees.  Let's talk about this new playoff format, and how it could affect the Stars.

The top 6 teams in each conference (eastern and western) earn the right to play post-season hockey.  The top two teams in each conference earn a first round bye, so those four teams get to sit back and relax while the remaining 8 teams beat each other up.  #3 seed vs. #6 seed, and #4 seed vs. #5 seed.  The first round of playoffs, called the "qualifying round," are a best of three format (first team to win two games wins the series).  The catch here is that the higher seeded team in each series will host ALL first round series games.  Each round after the first round will be a best of 5 format (first team to win three games wins the series).   

Was that confusing enough?  Well, here's a quote from a recent USHL article in which they talk about this "new and improved" playoff format:

With 16 teams competing in the USHL this season, the most in League history, the Clark Cup Playoff format has expanded to allow for an even more competitive and exciting postseason in 2011.  The top six teams in each conference (Eastern and Western) based on standings points will qualify for the playoffs.  The top two teams in each conference will automatically advance to the second round.  The remaining four teams (#3 vs. #6 and #4 vs. #5) in each conference will participate in a best-of-three series to fill the next two spots in the second round.  All three games (if necessary) will be played in the home arena of the higher seed (#3 and #4).  All remaining series in the playoffs will follow a best-of-five format.  The winner of the Eastern and Western brackets will meet in the Clark Cup Final.  Three teams in the Eastern Conference have already locked in a berth to the postseason – Green Bay Gamblers, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, and Indiana Ice.

So there you have it.  Clear as mud.

I have mentioned previously on this blog how important it is for the Stars to get to that 4th or 3rd spot in the western conference so they don't have to play every first round game on the road.  It's tough to guess who the Stars will matchup against in the first round, but it appears it could be one of three teams:  the Omaha Lancers, the Fargo Force, or the Sioux Falls Stampede.  With most teams still having 7 or less regular season games remaining, we can expect a lot of movement in the western conference standings.  Time will only tell where the Stars will land after the regular season is complete, and who they will play.

The Stars are on a bit of a hot streak, having won 5 of their last 6 games, so if this streak can continue, and we get a little help from the teams above us (ie losing), there is still hope the Stars can earn that #3 or #4 seed and host every first round game at the IceBox.  

Click here to view the most recent USHL standings and see where the Stars are at in relation to the other  teams in the western conference.

Click here to view the USHL Playoff Bracket on Pointstreak.

Okay, I've babbled long enough and now I want to hear from all of you.  Thoughts on this new format?  Is the USHL including too many teams?  Are you a fan of the higher seed hosting every playoff game in their rink in the first round?  If you're like me, and you aren't a fan of this new playoff system, how would you improve on it?  I'd love to hear all of your opinions.


BellTolls said...

The Anderson Cup race got really interesting of late too...two weeks ago Green Bay seemed to be in complete control. Well, they've lost 5 straight now and Cedar Rapids, despite being 3 points back, is the new favorite with 3 games in hand on GB. Dubuque is also right there 4 points back of GB with 2 games in hand.

nutz4puckz said...

I think I had made my thoughts clear on the playoffs and not liking the format. But the extra rest that the one and two seeds in each division get could be a bad thing. It's the rust vs. rest argument and in those short five game series, you don't want to lose that first game.

I'd still prefer a different format, but don't know what would work best. Just keeping the faith that one way or another we get some playoff hockey at the Ice Box this spring!!

nutz4puckz said...

The 2nd and 3rd place teams in the west flip flopped last night after Sioux Falls beat Omaha. We are only 5 back of 4th place Fargo with 7 games left and 1 in hand, so play some good hockey and things can break right for us. Maybe too soon to think about doing math and the what ifs, but he last 3 weeks are going to be fun to watch.

Sure beats where we were at last season at about this same time.