The Lincoln Stars hit the snooze button one too many times Sunday.
After falling behind 5-1 early in the third period, Josh Lopina and the Stars woke up, but it was too little, too late in a 6-3 loss to Tri-City at the Ice Box to split the weekend series.
The Stars (10-8-2) defeated the Storm 8-5 on Saturday.
"We knew what was coming at us," Lincoln head coach Cody Chupp said. "We talked about it extensively in the pregame. ... We knew (Tri-City) was upset about (Saturday), as they should be. We knew they were coming with something to prove. It's frustrating the way we responded to that."
Lopina sent himself off in style before he joins Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge next week. He became the third Stars player to have a two-goal game in Lincoln's last three contests and cut the Storm lead to 5-3 with just under 10 minutes to play in the final period. Josh Groll will also join Lopina next week at the WJAC.
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The same problems that hurt the Stars on Saturday carried over to Sunday — penalty minutes.
Tri-City combined for five goals on 11 power-play chances in the weekend series, including a 2-for-4 effort Sunday. Colby Ambrosio's third goal against Lincoln came on the man advantage and cushioned the Storm lead to 4-1 late in the second period. Chase Pilawski scored for Lincoln 6:19 into the second frame after Tri-City netted two early goals to begin the period.
The Stars have allowed a power-play goal in five consecutive games, ranking last in penalty-kill percentage (73.3%) in the USHL after being the top unit in that area early in the season.
"Every team has the ability to give them more and more opportunities to put pucks in the back of the net," Chupp said about the recent penalty-kill struggles. "If you can't get the clear or get a good swarm around it, they get another chance at it."
Lincoln's weekend series was the first of the season where it's faced the same opponent back-to-back days. Lincoln will do the same next week against the Western Conference-leading Waterloo Black Hawks on the road Friday and Saturday.
"If you want to beat a team that is at the top, especially in these back-to-back instances, Friday is important and Saturday is just as important," Chupp said. "Settling for splits in these weekends is not enough for us. We aren't satisfied with that and we need to find ways to play with a target on our back. That means raising our level of preparation and raising our level of play."