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Brent C. Wagner / Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, Published April 21 2012

Lincoln evens USHL series with Force at a game apiece

LINCOLN, Neb. – The opening two games of the United States Hockey League playoff series between Fargo and Lincoln included big hits, dramatic goals and some bad blood between the teams.

When the game ended Saturday, punches were thrown for several minutes as coaches and officials worked to separate the teams.

After all the excitement, though, the record will show that neither team has the edge through two games.

Lincoln found a spark, while Fargo faltered a bit Saturday, and the Stars won 3-2 at the Ice Box. The best-of-5 series is tied at one game apiece, and the team that wins two more games this week will advance to the conference finals. Game 3 is Wednesday in Fargo.

Fargo won the first game 2-1 in overtime.

“We didn’t really show up Friday, and we didn’t play to our potential and it pissed everybody off,” Lincon’s Dax Lauwers said. “We knew we were a better team than we showed Friday.”

Kevin Roy, Zach Aston-Reese and Lauwers scored for the Stars.

Lincoln goaltender Charles Williams made several big stops to make up for an early goal by Fargo’s Gabe Guertler. Neal Goff scored Fargo’s other goal.

Williams made two saves on breakaways in the third period, including one with seven minutes remaining during a stretch of 33 minutes when Lincoln was protecting a one-goal lead.

“The save (Williams) made on Nate Arentz after our two power plays was a series-saver,” Lincoln coach Chad Johnson said. “I thought Fargo was gaining momentum and they had a 3-on-1 breakaway and he saved it. That was the play of the series so far.”

Aston-Reese broke a 2-2 tie with a goal six minutes into the second period that held up as the winner. Aston-Reese got off a quick shot on a tight angle near the goal that beat Zane Gothberg.

Lincoln won its first playoff game since April 17, 2009. That ended a stretch of six straight postseason losses, each coming against Fargo.

There was also individual relief and excitement for Lauwers, the shutdown defenseman who scored his first USHL goal in his 106th game played for the Stars.

“Jared Hanson gave me a nice pass coming through the zone, and I just swung at her and put her in,” Lauwers said. “Coach Johnson said when it comes, it will be a big one.”

On Friday, some carelessness with the puck cost Lincoln. It was the same case Saturday for Fargo, with Lincoln cashing in on a couple of breakdowns by Fargo, including on the decisive goal.

“Maybe Lincoln only scores a couple goals if they don’t get the three gifts we wrapped for them,” Fargo coach John Marks said. “You can’t win if you got passengers. And our best players, if they’re not your best players in the playoffs, it’s tough winning. We had some passengers tonight. You’re not going to beat a good hockey team with half a bench.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, F, Guertler (Wade) 4:14. 2, L, Lauwers (Tate, Hanson) 5:10. 3, L, Roy (Tate) 12:44.

SECOND PERIOD: 4, F, Goff (Arentz) 5:55. 5, L, Aston-Reese (Hawkinson) 6:37.

THIRD PERIOD: No scoring.

SAVES: F, Gothberg 7-11-12–30. L, Williams 4-9-9–22.