MUSKEGON, MI- With only two weeks left in the USHL regular season, the Eastern Conference race is as tight as it gets. The Muskegon Lumberjacks find themselves in second place, six points behind first-place Chicago and eight points ahead of third-place Green Bay.
Muskegon still controls their own destiny when it comes to the number-one seed in the East, but Muskegon has a long way to go to overtake the top-seeded Steel, and the Jacks are running out of time to do it.
The bigger focus for the Lumberjacks is holding off the Gamblers, maintaining the number two seed, and thus hosting all three games of the best-of-three Conference Semifinal. It’s likely that one of the two first-round series in the East will be Muskegon vs Green Bay- what’s less clear is where the games will be played.
Because Green Bay and Youngstown had a three-game series postponed due to Covid-19 protocol, and since that series hasn’t been rescheduled, the battle for home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference will likely come down to winning percentage. In order for the Jacks to clinch the two seed, and therefore home ice in the first round, Muskegon needs to earn seven points in their final five games, or get help from Green Bay.
All Muskegon can do is continue to win, and although their six-game win streak was halted on Saturday by Dubuque, the Jacks have still won a remarkable 16 of 19, and remain among the league’s most dangerous teams.
Muskegon won two of three last weekend against Dubuque, showcasing strong defense and stellar goaltending. The Jacks allowed only four goals in the three-game set against the Saints, and goalie Jan Skorpik became the first Jacks goalie to pitch a shutout since Brandon Bussi in 2018-19.
Offensively, the Jacks peppered Dubuque goaltending for most of the weekend, but the Saints got their fair share of excellent stops as well. Despite stingy play from the Dubuque defense, Muskegon captain Dylan Wendt was able to extend his franchise-record point streak to 14 games, a streak he will hope to extend in Youngstown this weekend.
While the Phantoms have struggled this season, they remain a dangerous opponent that has beaten Muskegon twice this year, and taken the Jacks to overtime in another two games. Youngstown defeated Muskegon 6-5 in Muskegon back on March 26.
Playing on the road, Muskegon will have to be ready to face the Phantoms, who have been eliminated from playoff contention and would love nothing more than to spoil things for their rivals.
Both games in Youngstown are scheduled for 7:05pm and can be viewed on HockeyTV.com.