WATERLOO — Playoff hockey brings a little different level of intensity, and the Waterloo Black Hawks learned that this past Saturday and Sunday.
After falling in Game 1 of a United States Hockey League best-of-five Western Conference semifinal series to Lincoln, 3-2 in overtime Saturday, the Black Hawks responded with more urgency in Game 2 Sunday, a 3-0 win.
Now the Anderson Cup champions find themselves in a best-of-three with games tonight and Thursday in Lincoln where the nastiness level will probably ratchet up a notch or two.
“They are a good team, and I think both teams ... you can see it and feel it. It has been a battle out there and there is not a lot of room and a little bit of nastiness,” said Waterloo head coach P.K. O’Handley.
“We feel fortunate to bring it square and that is where it is, and now we are in the moment.”
Waterloo had some success at Lincoln’s Ice Box this season, going 1-0-1 with a 3-2 overtime loss on March 2 and a 6-2 win Jan. 19.
“We’ve been a good road team, and we’ve been good all year on the road and hopefully we can continue that in the playoffs,” said goalie Jared Moe, who made 21 saves to record the shutout in Game 2.
The Black Hawks figure there are two or three keys to having success in Lincoln as they try to reach the Western Conference finals for the third consecutive season.
First, Waterloo needs to unleash its top three regular season scorers — Jack Drury (65 points), Jackson Cates (63) and Ben Copeland (62). That trio has just two assists in the first two games of the series.
Second, like they did Sunday, the Black Hawks have to be cognizant of the strong passing ability pf the Stars’ defensemen.
“I thought we did a good job of sealing them up,” forward Garrett Klee said after Sunday’s win. “Their D core is good at getting pucks through, and I think we did a good job of shutting them off and that was with everyone coming back hard on the back-check to cut out a lot of their chances on the rush.”
Waterloo would also like to get its high-powered power-play on track. The Black Hawks were second in the USHL in power-play conversions during the regular season (23.6 percent), but were 0-for-11 in the first two games, including 0-for-8 Sunday.
Finally, Waterloo wants to approach Game 3 the same way it has approached every game.
“Same process ... you can’t get too high or too low,” Klee said.
“You’ve got to play it as it comes and not get too far ahead and certainly not look behind. You’ve got to be in the moment,” O’’Handley added.