Tuesday, May 1, 2012

B³ Clark Cup Playoff Preview: Waterloo Blackhawks

The Lincoln Stars will continue on in the 2012 USHL Clark Cup Playoffs against the Waterloo Blackhawks this weekend in their Western Conference Finals series matchup.

Click here to view the Pointstreak playoff bracket.

This will be a best-of-five series (first team to win three games wins).  Here are the particulars of each game:

Game 1: Wednesday, May 2nd, 7:05 PM – Waterloo @ Lincoln
Game 2: Friday, May 4th, 7:05 PM – Waterloo @ Lincoln
Game 3: Saturday, May 5th, 7:05 PM – Lincoln @ Waterloo
Game 4: Monday, May 7th, 7:05 PM – Lincoln @ Waterloo (if necessary)
Game 5: Wednesday, May 9th, 7:05 PM – Waterloo @ Lincoln (if necessary)

The Blackhawks earned the right to play the Lincoln Stars in the conference finals thanks to a two-game sweep of the Tri-City Storm in the first round of the Clark Cup playoffs, and then a 3-1 series win over the Omaha Lancers in the second round.

The Stars and the Blackhawks met four times in the 2011-12 USHL regular season with Lincoln going 2-2-0 in those 4 contests.  Lincoln went 1-1-0 at the IceBox against the Blackhawks and went 1-1-0 in two games on the road in Waterloo.  Three of the four regular season games between these two teams were decided by one goal, and two of the games were decided in overtime.

The last time the Stars and Blackhawks met in the regular season, it was 4/1/12 and Lincoln lost at Young Arena in Waterloo, IA by a score 4-1.  That was the only contest that wasn't decided by one goal, and it was a one-goal game going into the third period.

The Blackhawks are an extremly hot team right now, and are riding a 13-game win streak in their own barn.  Young Arena in Waterloo has not been a very friendly place for the Stars to play over the years.  On 12/11/11, the Stars beat the Blackhawks in Waterloo by a score of 2-1 in OT.  It was the first time since April 10th, 2007 that Lincoln beat Waterloo at Young Arena.  Almost five years.

Going back to the start of the 2007-08 season, the Stars and Waterloo Blackhawks have played a total of 16 times in the regular season.  The Stars have a record of 5-7-4 in those sixteen games.  I'm not sure why, but the Stars just haven't had much luck in recent seasons against the Blackhawks.

Waterloo is a much different team than the team the Stars faced last round, the Fargo Force.  The Blackhawks are smaller up front, but much more quicker and skilled than Fargo.  They can score goals in bunches, and will use the larger ice surface (olympic sheet) in Waterloo at Young Arena to their advantage.  So they will give the Stars a much different challenge compared to Fargo.  The Blackhawks are much more potent offensively than the Force, and they have just as good of a goaltender in net.

Stephon Williams began the season as the starting goaltender for the Sioux Falls Stampede before he was traded to Waterloo in February.  The Stars have had good luck against Stephon Williams while he was with the Stampede, but he's almost a different goaltender in the playoffs.  Over the last two seasons, Stephon has a record of 9-2 in the playoffs with a .919 save percentage and a 2.29 goals against average.  He seems to step up his games with they count.

Waterloo was picked by many USHL pundits as the team to beat in the western conference at the beginning of the 2011-12 regular season.  They didn't get out to the best start, but they are certainly playing their best hockey of the season right now (as are the Stars).  I went back and looked at the last 20 games each team as played, and the results are very interesting.  Waterloo is 16-4-0 in their last twenty while the Stars are 15-5-0 in their last twenty.  I have a hard time believing this series doesn't go at least four games.  In fact, I'm predicting it goes all five games.

I'm really, really looking forward to this series.  Although I think the Blackhawks will pose a very tough task for the Stars, I believe Lincoln has what it takes to compete with Waterloo and possibly move on to the USHL Finals.  They key for Lincoln is to take advantage of home ice.  The Blackhawks have been nearly unbeatable at home as of late, so it's extremely important the Stars take care of business at the IceBox this weekend with two big wins.  So that's why it's important that all of us pack the IceBox for games one and two and give the Stars every advantage they deserve.  Be loud and proud!

Go Stars.

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