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SIOUX CITY | Mathematically speaking, the Sioux City Musketeers are teetering on the brink of elimination from the Clark Cup Playoff picture.

Don’t tell that to Sampo Ranta. Tri-City and Lincoln each entered Friday night’s game tied for fifth in the Western Conference and leading the seventh-place Musketeers by a 62-51 points margin with barely two weeks remaining in the regular season, but Ranta and his teammates hardly played like they were fading.

Ranta had a goal and an assist as the Musketeers stormed to a 3-0 first-period lead and added an insurance goal in the third period. Cole Koepke and Dylan Mills also recorded red-lighters in the opening frame of a 5-2 United States Hockey League win over the Tri-City Storm at the Tyson Events Center.

Sioux City (23-23-7) is back to .500 after posting its second straight win in the series against the Storm. The Musketeers will surpass that winning percentage if they post a win Saturday night over the Western Conference’s last-place team, the Des Moines Buccaneers (19-27-7).

Ranta, who has three two-goal games this season (two against Tri-City) has five goals and three assists for Coach Luke Strand’s Musketeers in the season series versus Tri-City, a team they’ll face April 13 at the Viaero Event Center in Kearney, Neb. A University of Wisconsin recruit from Naantali, Finland, Ranta scored his 20th goal of the season to start the team’s first three-goal opening period of the season since a 5-2 win over Central Illinois on Dec. 16.

Ranta also assisted, along with team assist leader Martin Pospisil (24), on Mills’ power play goal with 5:52 left in the first stanza. Incidentally, Ranta scored the Musketeers’ only other man-advantage goal of the series in a 3-2 shootout loss on Oct. 28 at the Tyson Events Center.

Sioux City had gone just 1-1-3 in the five previous games against Tri-City. Though Strand’s squad had scored the game’s initial goal in each of the previous three meetings, the lead was often short-lived. That is, with the exception of March 4 at the Tyson when Micah Miller’s first-period goal was the only one scored until the Storm rallied to score early third-period goals about 1.5 minutes apart in a 3-2 shootout won by the Musketeers.

Sioux City’s offensive success came against a Tri-City team that has allowed the USHL’s second-fewest goals (130). Even that total is deceiving, as the Storm have been without the league’s top goaltender, Filip Larsson (18-10, 1.65 goals-against-average, 7 shutouts), who hasn’t play since suffering a groin injury in the first six minutes and 46 seconds of a 4-2 win over Des Moines on Feb. 24.

Tri-City (29-21-4) has been outscored 45-30 while posting a 3-6-2 mark ever since. Jake Barczewski (10-9-3), who had gone 2-0 against the Musketeers, was making his sixth consecutive start.

Barczewski wasn’t pulled after yielding the three first-period goals and was waving his right fist when teammate Mike Koster scored a power-play goal with 18:46 left in the game. Musketeer goaltender Matt Jurusik (20-19-4) had stopped nine shots before losing the shutout, the sixth time this season he entered the third period with a shutout.

Jurusik was given a 4-1 lead on Ranta’s goal with 9:37 left, only to see the Storm’s Hugo Blixt score 38 seconds later. Jurusik survived a minute and 45 seconds of a 5-on-3 disadvantage when Tri-City put up three shots, but Koepke’s second goal of the game, a shorthanded empty net goal with 1:13 left clinched the Musketeers’ win.

Following Friday night’s victory, seven games remain on the Musketeers schedule over the next two weeks. The Musketeers are winless this season against Saturday night’s opponent. Des Moines picked up its third win in the series with a 3-2 shootout win last Saturday at Buccaneer Arena in Urbandale.

That night, Koepke (25 goals, 9 assists) and Mills (15, 5) scored goals for the Musketeers which tied the game in the first and third periods, respectively. Micah Miller is the team’s top scorer in the season series against Des Moines with two goals and an assist.


Sports reporter

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