The Dubuque Fighting Saints will get a look at two possible playoff opponents on Friday and Saturday as they take on the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and the Chicago Steel. Dubuque has clinched a berth in the playoffs but will likely not know who they face in the first round until next weekend. Cedar Rapids and Chicago are two of the three most likely opponents. Dubuque has just two wins against Cedar Rapids this season and are 1-2 against the Steel.
-Dubuque has now clinched a berth in their ninth-straight Clark Cup playoffs. The Saints hold the longest active streak in the USHL as their win over Central Illinois on Sunday put them in to the postseason once again. The Fighting Saints are the sixth seed and unless they win out will remain in that spot meaning they will be heading on the road for their first-round matchup.
-The RoughRiders and Steel have known for longer than Dubuque that they will play in the postseason, but like Dubuque they have little idea who they will play in the first round. In fact, one of the two have a good chance to secure a first-round bye as the two seed in the East. The Steel sit in the second spot right now, but Cedar Rapids is a point back with a game in hand.
-Dubuque matched their win total from last season with their 26th win on Sunday. The Fighting Saints will have four chances to top that mark and will want to win more than just one game the rest of the way as they look to create momentum heading in to the playoffs.
-Cedar Rapids, Friday’s opponent, is one of the best defensive teams in the USHL. The RoughRiders stingy defense has allowed 2.59 goals per game this season, which is second best in the USHL. They are a much better team at home, but on the road against Dubuque they have performed well this season with a 3-0 record. All three games are one goal wins and two have gone past regulation.
-The Chicago series has been similarly close, with Chicago taking two of three games. The Steel have won 5-3 and 3-2, while Dubuque has won 5-3. The home team has won every game in the series and the team to score the first goal has lost all three games.
-Friday and Saturday’s games could follow a very different feel because of the contrasting styles of the two teams. As mentioned, Cedar Rapids can shutdown anyone in the league. On the flip side, Chicago can score with anyone. The Steel have netted 3.89 goals per game, second most in the USHL.
-On the milestone watch for the Fighting Saints, two marquee players have a chance to continue their trek up the all-time charts. Willie Knierim sits just two points away from 100 career points with the Fighting Saints. Knierim would be the fifth Saints player to hit 100 points in his career. Matias Maccelli is also three points away from 70 this season. Maccelli would be the fourth Saint to hit 70 points or more in a single season. Both records include only players from the Tier-1 era.
-In Sunday’s game, Dubuque scored six goals or more for the fifth time this season. In four of five games after hitting that total, Dubuque has scored at least four goals. The offense was clicking early and often against Central Illinois and Dubuque poured it on especially in the second period.
-Dubuque will be looking to win back to back home games for the first time since the beginning of March and just third time since the calendar turned to 2019. Dubuque has struggled to find a consistent result at home but will hope to build off their Sunday effort in the last few games.
-The key to both games could lie in the penalties taken by the RoughRiders and the Steel. Chicago is the least penalized team in the USHL, and Cedar Rapids has had three games this season where they have given up no power plays to the Saints. They have been shorthanded all of 12 times in eight games against Dubuque.
-Last season Dubuque did not know where they were playing and against who until the last day of the season. This season half of the equation has been determined as they know they will be on the road. This will allow Dubuque to prep accordingly for the next two weeks.