|Courtesy of Shooting Star Photos|
Click here to view the Pointstreak boxscore.
With the win, the Stars wrapped up the regular season with a record of 39-22-3 (81 points) and a .633 winning percentage through 64 games. Click here to view the current USHL standings
The Stars finished the regular season much like how they started it....red hot. In their first thirteen games of the regular season, Lincoln had a 11-2-0 record. In their last thirteen games of the regular season, Lincoln went 10-3-0.
The Stars still do not not know who they will face in the first round of the playoffs, but that will be decided this afternoon. The fourth place Waterloo Blackhawks, who are one point behind the Stars, take on the Indiana Ice at 2:05pm CST. If Waterloo wins in regulation or in OT, they'll finish in third place and the Stars will face the Sioux Falls Stampede in the first round. If Waterloo loses in regulation or in OT, they'll finish in fourth place and the Stars will face the Fargo Force in the first round.
Personally, I think the proposed playoff schedule against the Sioux Falls is more favorable for the Stars compared to the schedule against the Fargo Force, so I hope the Blackhawks win their game this afternoon. Fargo and Sioux Falls are both very good teams, so the Stars will have their hands full regardless of who they play.
Back to the game last night in Kearney, both teams traded PP goals in the first period with Luke Johnson scoring Lincoln's tally at the 9:50 mark of the first period thanks to a beautiful pass from Phil Marinaccio. Phil brought the puck in from the blueline, attracted all of the attention to him, before sliding a pinpoint backhand pass to Luke Johnson who one-time the puck past Storm goaltender Justin Quale.
The Storm added a PP goal of their own at the 16:08 mark of the period to knot the score at 1-1 going into the first intermission. The Stars outshot Tri-City 15-11 in the first twenty minutes.
In the second period, just like in the first, each team would score one goal a piece. Vinni Lettieri continued his hot streak with a goal scored at the 15:22 mark of the second before the Storm answered with only 55 seconds remaining in the middle period to tie the game at 2-2. Zach Aston-Reese picked up the lone assist on Vinni's goal. The Stars had three powerplay opportunities in the second period, but they were not able to score with the man advantage. Lincoln outshot Tri-City 28-21 through the first two periods.
The Storm came out very quickly in the third period and peppered Stars goaltender Michael Bitzer with shot after shot, but it was Lincoln that got on the scoreboard first to break the 2-2 tie. Vinni Lettieri scored his second goal of the game on a one-timer blast at the 13:04 mark to give the Stars a 3-2 lead. It was another great setup by Phil Marinaccio with the secondary assist going to Eric Schurhamer.
The dagger came with 3:25 remaining in the third period when Stars forward Brad Hawkinson ripped a glove-high snipe past Quale to give Lincoln the insurance goal at 4-2. Hawkinson tally was his 12th of the season, and it was unassisted.
Very late in the game, with the Storm on the powerplay, TC pulled their goaltender for the extra attacker and scored a 6-on-4 PP goal with 45 seconds remaining in the game to pull to within one goal. Bitzer and the Stars shut the door in the final 45 seconds to seal the 4-3 victory and an undefeated season series against the Tri-City Storm. Lincoln outshot Tri-City 40-38 overall.
Lincoln went 1-for-6 on the powerplay while the Storm went 2-for-3. The Stars' special teams didn't look that greatt last night, so hopefully that improves a bit in the playoffs. If Lincoln wants to make a long playoff run, they'll have to improve in that department. I do appreciate that the Stars are staying out of the penalty box, but they'll need to improve both on the PP and the PK in the postseason.
With his five goals over the weekend, I would guess that Vinni Lettieri has a good opportunity at being named USHL forward of the week. We'll have to wait until Monday or Tuesday to find out if that is the case. Lettieri is a treat to watch live. In my opinion, he's Lincoln's best forward right now and I would argue he's Lincoln's most valuable player. He does it all. Originally, he was scheduled to start at the University of Minnesota in 2014, but considering the amount of underclassmen that have left Minnesota early, and the fact that Vinni is tearing up the USHL right now, it would not surprise me at all if the Gophers bring Vinni up this fall.
In his first start since March 22nd, Stars goaltender Michael Bitzer stopped 35 of 38 shots on goal to record his 22nd win of the season. I was really impressed with how poised Bitzer looked last night, especially considering the long layoff. Defensively, the Stars didn't play their best game so Bitzer had to bail out his team a number of times. I have absolutely have no idea who the Stars will start in net for the upcoming playoffs. Both Bitzer and Teichroeb are playing very, very well right now. It's a good "problem" to have, I suppose.
The Stars scratched Mike McKee, Jimmy DeVito, and Riley Bourbonnais in this game. I believe McKee is still recovering from a wrist injury. Bourbonnais has a lower body injury but from what I've been told it isn't too serious. A surprise addition to the lineup was forward Max Humitz, who played his first game since January 25th. It's a bit confusing, but Humitz has been on Lincoln's affiliate list but has been in town going to school and practicing with the team. I'm guessing the Stars petitioned the USHL to allow Max to play in this final regular season game. Considering the long layoff, I thought Max looked very good last night and will hopefully be a player that returns to Lincoln next season.
It was another great showing by "Stars Nation" last night at the Viaero Event Center in Kearney. I'd probably guess there were between 300-500 Stars fans in attendance last night, and we were very vocal as always. It was nice to be there and give the boys some support in their last regular season game.
I'll be watching the Waterloo-Indiana boxscore later today and will post an article after we know who the Stars will play in the first round of the USHL Clark Cup playoffs.