|Courtesy of CK Photography|
With the loss, the Stars dropped to 33-17-4 (70 points) and are still in second place in the USHL Western Conference. Lincoln is now three points behind the first place Omaha Lancers (73 points), but the Stars still have two games in hand. Click here to view the USHL standings.
Disappointing ending last night for a game that was so hyped coming in. I don't know how much time I really want to spend dissecting each goal. Still not in the greatest of moods after last night. I'm sure this is how Omaha fans felt last season when the Stars couldn't lose to the Lancers. As a fan, it's frustrating to watch the Stars continue to fall to the Lancers, so I'm sure the players are pissed off as well.
Getting back to the game, I thought Lincoln came out in the first period and took the play right to the Lancers. Stars were the more physical team, and had better scoring opportunities 5-on-5. Wherever the Lancers were, a Stars player was there right in his face. I think Lincoln may have hit two posts in the first period, but no pucks were able to get past Omaha goaltender Alex Lyon.
Late in the first period, I thought a few bad calls definitely went against Lincoln. I'm not the type of to blame losses on the officials. It's cliche, but I've always believed that good teams overcome bad calls. First, Markus McCrea picked up a phantom tripping minor in the Omaha defensive zone. From my seat, I saw a Lancers player fall, but McCrea's stick was no where near him. Maybe the ice was soft last night because it seemed like the Lancers had a much harder time than the Stars staying on their skates. You interpret that how you wish.
So with McCrea in the penalty box, Stars defneseman Mike McKee laid out a huge hip check along the boards as an Omaha player with the puck was entering the Lincoln defensive zone. Again, from my seat, it looked like a good, hard hip check to me. McKee is 6'4", 230 pounds, so whenever he hits anyone at full steam they are going down fast and hard. I think referee Ken Anderson overreacted a bit to the hit when he gave McKee a five-minute major and game ejection for elbowing. I did not see an elbow, but the play did happen very fast. Even if there was an elbow, I don't think it deserved a major and a game ejection. If anything, Anderson could have whistled McKee for a minor, or even a double-minor for elbowing. By the way, the Omaha player hit on the play got right up and did not miss a shift.
So with McCrea and McKee in the box, the Lancers scored a 5-on-3 PP goal late in the first period. Whatever momentum the Stars had earlier on in the period vanished with the Omaha PP goal.
Lancers used that swing in momentum early on in the second period to score two goals (one on the PP) to take a 3-0 lead. After the third Lancers goal, Stars goaltender Jackson Teichroeb was pulled in favor of Charles Williams.
Teemu Tiitinen scored on a goal-mouth scramble shortly after the third Omaha goal to give the Stars some life. Stars pulled to within two goals at 3-1 going into the second intermission.
Just like in the second period, the Lancers outscored the Stars 2-1 in the third to pull away for the eventual 5-2 win. The lone Stars goal came from Vinni Lettieri who sniped a puck glove-high past Lyon from just inside the blueline. Lancers scored a meaningless empty-net goal late in the third for their fifth goal. Lancers finished 2-for-6 on the powerplay, while the Stars went 0-for-5.
There's no doubt in my mind that the Stars are a better team 5-on-5 than the Lancers. That has been the case in most of the games I've seen between the two teams this season. Say what you want about the bad calls, or the diving, but the Stars have not been able to figure out Omaha's PP all season long. The Lancers have scored 12 powerplay goals in six games against the Stars this season, while Lincoln has scored six PP goals.
"Puck luck" definitely wasn't on Lincoln's side last night either. I counted at least four posts hit from Lincoln shots on goal. Alex Lyon did give up a number of rebounds, but all seemed to go directly to the stick of an Omaha player.
One thing that kind of bothered me last night about the Stars was it seemed to me that the team was not as physical in the second and third periods compared to the first. I thought Lincoln's best period was the first when they were skating around with their hair on fire, and hitting anything that moved. Their forecheck was outstanding, and they did not allow Omaha much breathing room. That seemed to disappear in the second and third periods, which allowed Omaha more room to skate and set up offensive chances.
If the Stars want to finish in first place in the west, tonight's game is a must win. Tomorrow's game in Waterloo might be a must win also. It will be interesting to see how the Stars respond this evening in Omaha. I'd expect to see Charles Williams start in net for Lincoln, and Alex Lyon once again for Omaha. If Lincoln can win the special teams war, I have no doubt they can win the game tonight.
I'll be watching the game from home tonight on FastHockey, so I'll post my thoughts after the conclusion. If you have any thoughts about the game last night, please leave a comment below.