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Lincoln Stars and Chicago Steel clinch playoff spots, Tri-City and Youngstown on verge of joining the party

Steel are playoff bound for a seventh consecutive season while the Stars look to make a deep run

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Lincoln head coach Rocky Russo talks during a timeout earlier this season. The Stars clinched a playoff spot for a second consecutive season Saturday night with a 5-2 win in Sioux City.
Jordan McAlpine / The Rink Live

Another pair of USHL teams secured their spot in the Clark Cup Playoffs Saturday night as both the Lincoln Stars and Chicago Steel are officially in.

Chicago and Lincoln become the third and fourth teams to do so, joining Fargo and Waterloo.

The Steel are playoff bound for a seventh straight season thanks to a 5-4 shootout win in Green Bay. Lincoln will be making its 19th playoff appearance in franchise history and its second consecutive. The Stars punched their ticket with a 5-2 win in Sioux City on Saturday.

After getting upset by Waterloo in the opening round last spring, the Stars want to make a deep run this time around.

"It's step one of what we're trying to accomplish here," Lincoln head coach Rocky Russo said. "We didn't get together in August and start this journey just to make the playoffs. We want more than that.”


Russo’s club has earned points in six straight (5-0-0-1), eight of their last 10 (6-2-1-1) and have scored 25 goals over their current six-game stretch.

Despite dropping six straight in February, the Stars have responded well and are catching fire at the right time.

Lincoln is currently third in the Western Conference with 66 points, just three back of Waterloo. Lincoln also currently has a four-point edge on fourth-place Tri-City, who has shown no signs of slowing down.

The Stars will face Tri-City three more times and Waterloo twice as Lincoln has a gauntlet of a nine-game stretch to close out the season.

Lincoln and Tri-City will play a crucial game at the Ice Box on Wednesday and the Stars will host Waterloo next Friday and Saturday.

Lincoln also has a pair of games at Fargo (April 14-15) and will finish the season with a home-and-home against Tri-City on April 21 and 22.

“Our next nine games are all about jockeying for position,” Russo said. “I said to the guys, we won 35 games last year, let’s make that the next goal to exceed the 35-win mark.”

Lincoln currently sits at 31-18-3-1 on the 2022-23 campaign.


As for the Steel, Chicago (34-16-3-1) has led the Eastern Conference since mid-October. Perhaps it’s fitting the Steel are the first team to punch their playoff ticket in the east.

Although Chicago’s lead has dwindled to three points, thanks to Youngstown’s recent surge, the Steel lead the way with 72 points.

Chicago is 6-3-1-0 in its last 10 and has won five of its last seven.

The Steel also have an interesting stretch on the horizon as Chicago’s final eight games include a pair of games against the NTDP U18 team, a home-and-home with Dubuque and a pivotal two-game set at Youngstown.

The Phantoms play at Green Bay Sunday afternoon and with a win, Youngstown can trim Chicago’s lead to just one point.

Youngstown can also clinch a playoff spot with a win.

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Tri-City can also move one step closer to securing a playoff spot Sunday afternoon against Fargo. Tri-City entered this weekend with a magic number of eight, which has since been cut in half.

The Storm defeated Fargo 7-3 on Friday and followed it up with a 4-0 win on Saturday.


The Storm are just the third team to blank the league-leading Force this season and Fargo enters Sunday’s game riding a three-game losing streak.

Tri-City has points in nine of its last 10 (8-1-1-0) and is currently fourth in the west with 62 points. With another win on Sunday, Tri-City’s magic number will be lowered to two.

Seventh-place Des Moines currently has 46 points with 10 games left.

Jordan McAlpine is a junior and prospects reporter for The Rink Live.
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