Omaha’s hopes of extending its USHL record of consecutive playoff berths suffered a severe blow in Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Des Moines.
The 32-25-1 Lancers led 2-1 after two periods before the Buccaneers scored three times in the third period to prevent Omaha from moving into fourth place in the Western Conference.
forward Michael Marnell did the late damage, scoring the go-ahead goal with less than four minutes remaining. That goal, and the empty-netter he scored at 19:11, left the Ralston Arena crowd of 3,016 stunned and silent, pondering the possibility that the Lancers will miss the postseason for the first time in 24 years.
“We got away from things we were successful with early in the game,” Omaha coach Mike Aikens said. “We came out, stood around, and we lost battles that we were winning in the first and second periods. We let them hang around too long.”
Despite outshooting Des Moines 15-6 in the first period — with several quality chances — Omaha trailed the Buccaneers 1-0 at the first intermission.
Des Moines defenseman James Roll blasted a perfectly placed slap shot from the left side that just missed a Lancer defender and one of Roll’s teammates. The puck went over the left shoulder of Lancers goalie Cole Bruns for Roll’s fourth goal of the season at 15:42.
“It probably should have been 5-1 after the first period, but we just didn’t get the bounces,” Aikens said. “I thought we were really good the first two periods.”
Some of those quality shots that were clanking off the crossbar or the pads of Des Moines goalie Nick Ellis began to bounce Omaha’s way in the second period.
Trent Samuels-Thomas, who started the season as a Buccaneer, got a centering pass across the middle from Matias Cleland and sent a shot toward the Des Moines goal. One favorable bounce later, the puck was in the net at 8:03 to make it 1-1.
Cleland, one of the USHL’s top scoring defensemen, then scored his ninth goal of the season at 14:41 on a power play. The New Hampshire recruit took the cross-crease pass and bounced the puck off the crossbar and into the net to give the Lancers their only lead of the game.
The Bucs tied it early in the third period when Seth Adams won a battle for a loose puck in front of the Omaha goal and punched it in at 2:31. Roll earned an assist on the seventh goal of the season for Adams.
That gave a boost of energy to the 23-32-3 Bucs — who are tied for seventh in the eight-team Western Conference — and propelled them for the final 17-plus minutes.
After getting off 27 shots in the first two periods, Omaha got three in the final 20 minutes. That was the most frustrating part of the game for Aikens and assistant coach Brian Kaufman.
With six games to play, the Lancers are one point behind Waterloo for the fourth and final Western Conference playoff berth. But the Black Hawks have played two fewer games, so Omaha will start looking for help from other teams to continue playing beyond the April 13 regular-season finale at Sioux Falls.
The Lancers hit the road for their next three games, starting Friday at first-place Sioux Falls before a Saturday night showdown at Sioux City.
Contact the writer:
402-618-4113, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/stevebeideck