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Published April 25 2012

Force drop pivotal game in series

FARGO – Brooms are out of the question, but a hammer and nails will certainly work.

Ask the Lincoln Stars. They are, after all, a game away from putting the final nail in the coffin that is the Fargo Force’s season.

Scoring two-first period goals in a series dictated by defense helped the Stars score a 3-1 win on Wednesday night, taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Western Conference semifinals.

“We had to get a good start, and that power play really ignited us,” said Stars defenseman Paul LaDue, who had a goal and an assist in the first period. “It was nice to get that goal. We slowed down in the second, but it was nice to have that two-goal lead.”

Lincoln, which won the Western Conference regular-season title, can put the series away on Friday with a win at Scheels Arena.

If Lincoln was to win Friday, it would give the team its first playoff series win over the Force, a team that has certainly played the role of tormentor the last four seasons.

The Stars entered the playoffs winless in five games against the Force.

Fargo extended the streak to six games to open the series, but Lincoln has rallied since.

LaDue, a North Dakota commit, has been one of the reasons why the Stars have kept things close.

“He’s a calming presence for us back there,” said Stars coach Chad Johnson of LaDue. “He’s one of those guys you need back there.”

LaDue scored the game’s opening goal off a power play.

His initial slapshot from the point was stopped by Force goaltender Zane Gothberg. Still, Lincoln recovered the puck and cycled it around to LaDue, who fired it in for a 1-0 lead.

About six minutes later, he played an outlet pass to forward Kevin Roy, who sneaked a shot past Gothberg for a 2-0 lead. The Force, however, did cut the lead to 2-1 off a goal by Gabe Guertler in the second.

It wasn’t enough for the Force, who were constantly turned away by Stars goaltender Charles Williams. He finished with 22 saves.

“Just not enough sense of urgency,” Marks said. “The first two goals were off of errors and off of turnovers. We didn’t win enough puck battles especially in the third period when we’re down a goal, we get outshot 2-to-1. It just tells you there is not enough urgency.”

Roy, who led the league with 104 points in the regular season, added an empty-netter at the end for a 3-1 lead with 11 seconds left.

The emotions from a pivotal Game 3 were apparent by looking at both locker rooms. Lincoln’s players had an excited look but still maintained a reserved presence about the series.

On the other side of Scheels Arena was a silence more typical of an empty building.

That’s the sound of knowing come Saturday, someone could be picking up a 3-wood instead of a hockey stick.

“Someone asked me how do I motivate a team at this point,” Marks said. “I think the motivation is already there. It’s up to them.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1. L, LaDue (Tate), pp., 9:00 2. Roy (LaDue), 16:41 SECOND PERIOD: 3. F, Guertler (Racobaldo, Cooper), pp., 15:49 THIRD PERIOD: 4. L, Roy (unassisted), en., 19:49.

SAVES: F, Gothberg 6-9-10 25 saves; L, Williams 6-10-6 22 saves

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan S. Clark at (701) 241-5548.

Clark’s Force blog can be found at slightlychilled.areavoices.com

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