LINCOLN, Neb. — It was like a shark smelling blood in the water.
With a chance to reach the Western Conference finals of the United States Hockey League’s Clark Cup playoffs for the fourth time in five years, the Waterloo Black Hawks opened with 40 minutes of strong hockey and then held on for a 3-2 win over the Lincoln Stars Thursday.
The Black Hawks won the final three games of the series after losing in overtime in the opener.
“It speaks volumes of Coach (P.K.) O’Handley, coach (Shane) Fukushima and how well they do in finding players and then turning them into hockey players,” Black Hawks forward Jack Drury said of reaching the conference finals again. “But last year when I was here we lost, and I know the year before they lost so we want to be the team that breaks through and I think we can do it.”
Waterloo will open the conference finals Saturday at Young Arena against Fargo.
Garrett Klee scored twice and Drury tallied his second of the playoffs while Jared Moe picked up his third win in the series with 22 saves.
“It’s nice,” Drury added. “Get to spend another day with these guys. It is what we are trying to do here and as long as we can play we want to do it and now we have to play a great team in Fargo.”
A fortunate bounce allowed Waterloo to score first.
With the Black Hawks shorthanded, a Lincoln shot stopped Moe then bounced off the glass to the stick of Klee in neutral ice.
Klee won a sprint down the ice and beat Tomas Vomacka into the right corner for a 1-0 lead with 5:24 left in the first period.
“It was just a good bounce for me,” Klee said. “Jared just had a talk to me about going out to the middle, and I was fortunate it went out to me in the middle and luckily I got that one in and we just built from there and stuck with it.”
The Black Hawks followed up a strong first period with perhaps their best period of hockey so far in the playoffs. They out-shot Lincoln, 21-5, in the middle period and stretched their lead to 3-0.
Niko Esposito-Selivanov, inserted into the lineup because of an injury to Evan Dougherty, put a shot on net and Klee punched home the rebound for his second of the game and third of the playoffs.
Just 40 seconds later, Drury scored from a sharp angle to make it 3-0. The Stars answered with three minutes left in the period to make it 3-1.
“I thought the second period was key,” said O’Handley. “I thought we had the puck most of the time. We had good looks around the net, and we had good looks throughout the series.”
Lincoln cut its deficit to one on a Casey Dornbach goal with 11:48 left in the third, but the Stars couldn’t crack Moe again.
“We knew Lincoln wasn’t going to go away so for our guys to buckle down and get the job done was huge and hopefully will carry us into the next round,” Klee said.
Waterloo 3, Lincoln 2
SCORE BY PERIODS
Waterloo 1 2 0 — 3
Lincoln 0 1 1 — 2
FIRST PERIOD — 1. Waterloo, Klee (unassisted), 14:36, sh. Penalties — Garrett Klee, Wat (high sticking), 5:20, Sam Huff, Wat (roughing), 7:41, Philippe Lapointe, Lin (roughing), 7:41, Bobby Trivigino, Wat (high stickiing), 14:07, Wyatt Aamodt, Lin (checking from behind), 17:53.
SECOND PERIOD — 2. Waterloo, Klee (Niko Esposito-Selivanov), 15:25, 3. Waterloo, Jack Drury (Mason Palmer), 16:05, 4. Lincoln, Ashton Calder (Casey Dornbach), 17:00. Penalties — Paul Cotter, Lin (charging), 3:40.
THIRD PERIOD — 5. Lincoln, Dornbach (Paul Cotter), 8:48. Penalties — Ethan Johnson, Wat (too many men), 6:29, Carter Long, Lin (tripping), 18:08.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Waterloo 11 21 14— 46
Lincoln 8 5 11 — 24
Goalies — Waterloo, Jared Moe (22 saves). Lincoln, Tomas Vomacka (30 shots, 27 saves), Derek Schaedig (16 shots, 16 saves) Referees —Jeffrey Parker and Zane Stout. Linesmen — Logan Wetekamp and Jeffrey Pococha.