MUSKEGON, MI – It’s that exciting time in the USHL season where the playoff picture is coming into focus.
For the Muskegon Lumberjacks, who have been atop the Eastern Conference standings since Day 1, it is especially exciting as they are very close to clinching the No. 1 seed.
All it will take for Muskegon to clinch the top seed is one win in its final four regular season games, or a loss for Cedar Rapids in one of its final five.
The Lumberjacks have two chances at securing the top seed, if necessary, on the road this weekend at Madison Friday and Green Bay Saturday. Both games are at 8:05 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to taking care of it this weekend,” Muskegon coach Mike Hamilton said of wrapping up the top seed after his team’s win over Central Illinois Saturday.
First up for Muskegon this weekend is the 340-mile, 5-and-half-hour trip to take on the Madison Capitols.
The Lumberjacks are 4-0 against the Capitols, including a 7-1 win in their first meeting on December 1 at Bob Suter Capital Ice.
Madison is on a 2-0-0-1 streak, including a win over second-place Chicago.
Muskegon was a little banged up over the weekend, skating with just 10 forwards and six defensemen, so it is looking forward to clinching the top spot and letting some of the bumps and bruises heal up before the start of the playoffs.
The Lumberjacks move on from Madison to Green Bay for a tilt Saturday against the Gamblers.
Muskegon has played the Gamblers three times this season, all within a week between November 23-30. It is 2-1 against the Gamblers, with a 4-2 win in the only other meeting at the Resch Center.
Green Bay is just 2-8 in its last 10, while the Lumberjacks are 4-5-1.
All of the participants in the Eastern Conference playoffs have been decided. The only question is what the matchups will be and who will get the second bye.
The most intriguing race is the one for the second bye, with three teams vying hard to get it.
Right now the Steel have it, as they sit in second place with 72 points, one more than Youngstown and Cedar Rapids. The RoughRiders may have the advantage, however, as they have one game in hand as they have five games left compared to four each for Chicago and the Phantoms.
In the West, Tri-City has run away with the Anderson Cup for the top regular season team overall with nine wins in its last 10 games.
For the complete USHL standings, click here.