Thursday, April 12, 2012

B³ Weekend Preview: Fargo Force (and the playoff push)

The Lincoln Stars will conclude the 2011-12 USHL regular season with two very important games against the Fargo Force this weekend.

 On Friday night, the Stars will host the Force at the IceBox.  On Saturday evening, the Force will host Lincoln at Scheels Arena in Fargo, ND.  The puck will drop at 7:05pm CST for the two contests.

To follow the team this weekend you can check out the boxscores online via Pointstreak, listen to Stars radio announcer Mike Melbye on KLMS 1480 AM, or watch the games on FASTHockey for a fee.

Lincoln currently has a record of 36-18-4 (76 points) and are in sole possession of first place in the USHL Western Conference.  Click here to see the up to date USHL standings.  I will take a closer look at the teams below the Stars in the standings and the potential playoff matchups later in this article.

The Force enter these last two games with a record of 31-21-6 (68 points) and are in fourth place in the western conference.  This will be the seventh, and eighth times Lincoln and Fargo will meet this season.  The Stars are 3-3-0 in six regular season games against Fargo.  Lincoln is 1-2-0 in three games against Fargo at the IceBox and 2-1-0 in three games in Fargo against the Force.  Each team has scored 20 goals in the six regular season contests.

Fargo is on a riding a bit of a hot streak right now with a record of 5-1-1 in their last seven games.  As you can see from the win-loss records above, the Force have done pretty well against the Stars in Lincoln this season, having won two of three games at the IceBox.  However, the Stars have done just as well against the Force in Fargo.  These two teams have played just about as even against each other as you can get.

Okay, enough about the Force.  Let's talk about the postseason.  Here are the six playoffs team in the west battling it out this weekend, and who they match up against:

1st:  Lincoln - 76 points (2 games remaining:  Fargo, @Fargo)
2nd:  Omaha - 75 points (2 games remaining:  @Des Moines, Sioux City)
3rd:  Waterloo - 72 points (2 games remaining:  Tri-City, Cedar Rapids)
4th:  Fargo - 68 points (2 games remaining:  @Lincoln, Lincoln)
5th:  Sioux City - 57 points (2 games remaining:  @Sioux Falls, @Omaha)
6th:  Tri-City - 51 points (2 games remaining:  @Waterloo, @Sioux Falls)

The top two teams in each conference earn a first round bye in the Clark Cup playoffs.  The first round of the playoffs start right away on Monday, April 16th with game one, and games two and three will be held on April 17th and 18th.  So the teams finishing in 3rd-6th place only get one day of rest (Sunday, April 15th) before they have to begin the playoffs.  The first round of the USHL playoffs is a best-of-three, so there is a potential for some teams to play 5 games in six days.

To top it off, the second round of the USHL playoffs begin one day after the first round concludes, on Friday, April 20th.  The second round of the playoffs is best-of-five, with the higher seeded team hosting the first two games at their rink.  A 2-2-1 format.  So if you want to look at it even closer, some teams could have to play 7 games in only nine days.  That's nuts.

And that's why it's so important the Stars finish in one of the top two spots in the west.  To ensure that, they only have to get one point this weekend.  One point.  One win, or take one game this weekend to overtime, and the Stars will be guaranteed a bye.  They'd get to rest up a bit, and then face a very tired team in the second round.

What is nice about where the Stars are right now in the standings is that they control their own destiny, unlike in past seasons where they have had to watch the scoreboard and rely on other teams to find out where they would end up in the postseason.  If the Stars win both games against Fargo this weekend, they'll finish in first place in the West no matter what.  It won't matter if Omaha or Waterloo wins both of their games this weekend.  Win both against Fargo, and the Stars will win the Western Conference regular season championship.

Worst case scenario for Lincoln is the following:  lose both games against Fargo, and the Waterloo Blackhawks win both of their home games this weekend.  If that were to happen, both teams would finish the regular season with 76 points.  Waterloo has a 2-0-2 record against Lincoln this season, while the Stars hold a 2-2-0 record.  Therefore, Waterloo would win the tiebreaker and finish in second place, bumping the Stars down to third place (and a first round playoff series against the Tri-City Storm).

Looking at the schedule for each of the top three teams, I think Waterloo has the easiest road.  Both games are at home where they are 19-6-3 on the season.  They play the Storm on Friday night, and Cedar Rapids on Saturday.  The Storm already have sixth place (and a playoff spot) wrapped up, so they really don't have anything to play for.  Similarly, the Roughriders have fifth place wrapped up in the East and are scheduled to play the Youngstown Phantoms in the first round of the playoffs.  They certainly don't have anything to play for this weekend.

Considering the fact that the teams finishing 3rd-6th place have just a day before they have to start the first round of the playoffs, I anticipate those teams resting a lot of their star players, which would make it easier for teams like Waterloo and Omaha to win their two games this weekend.  Speaking of the Lancers, they play the Des Moines Bucs (losers of 12 in a row), and Sioux City.  The Muskies are also a team that cannot go up or down in the standings, and are locked into the 5th spot in the west.  They don't have much to play for either.

Hopefully that makes sense.  Tons, and tons of scenarios this weekend but the important thing to remember is that the Stars are in total control of their destiny.  Best case scenario is win both games, win the west, and get the first round bye.  A good scenario is earning at least one point this weekend to guarantee a first round bye.  Worst case scenario is losing both games to Fargo, Omaha getting at least one point, and Waterloo winning both of their games.  In that particular scenario, the Waterloo Blackhawks would win the west (they own the tiebreaker against Omaha), the Lancers would finish in second, and the Stars would in third.  Clear as mud, right?

Anyway, enough of my babbling.  Be loud Friday night at the IceBox!  The boys need our support.

Go Stars.

1 comment:

nutz4puckz said...

Got it!! Be loud tonight, drink beer and enjoy hockey, simple as that. Lets get two tonight and tomorrow and win the west!!