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Tri-City at Lincoln, 11/22/17

Lincoln Stars defenseman Atte Tuliara (5) battles Tri-City Storm forward Adam Goodsir for the puck during a Nov. 22 game at the Ice Box. The Stars play Tri-City three times in their final four games.

With a playoff berth locked up in the USHL's Western Conference, the Lincoln Stars look to climb even farther up the conference standings.

The Stars, currently in fifth place, trail Sioux Falls and home-ice advantage for the first round by six points with four games remaining. Sioux Falls has five games to play and can clinch home ice with one win, holding the tiebreaker with Lincoln with 30 regulation/overtime wins.

“Obviously, we are excited,” Stars coach Cody Chupp said after Wednesday's 6-2 win over Des Moines at the Ice Box. “Our message is this is a point along the timeline of the season — it's not an end all (and) not a finished product; now our task is a new one. It's getting better every day, and we want to be the hottest team going into the playoffs.”

Since the end of January, when the Stars were in last place in the conference, Lincoln has put together an 18-4-1 record.

The final four games in the regular season will have a playoff atmosphere. The Stars close out with in-state rivals Omaha and Tri-City, playing Tri-City three times in the final four games.

Lincoln has yet to beat Tri-City this season, but has not played the Storm since late December. The Storm has hit a slump as of late, going 2-7-1 in its last 10 games, but that is something the Stars will not overlook. Tri-City currently holds the sixth and final playoff spot in the west, but has not clinched.

“We want to make a statement to ourselves, those two teams and the rest of the league,” Stars captain Dominick Mersch said. “We are here to play and we aren't going away without a fight.”

Lincoln travels to Kearney on Friday, before hosting Tri-City on Saturday at the Ice Box.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7431 or tgray@journalstar.com.

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