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Chris Murphy, Published April 05 2013

Force use huge comeback to top Stampede

FARGO – Apparently down three goals versus Sioux Falls – with the Stampede less than two periods away from clinching first place in the Western Conference – is exactly where Fargo wanted them.

The Force scored six unanswered goals to rally past the Stampede 7-4 in front of a sellout crowd Friday at Scheels Arena.

“This was a big game,” Fargo coach John Marks said. “These two points were big. This was a big comeback for us. We’ve been competing with them all year. Every game has been close with them.”

Sioux Falls defenders weren’t the only things tailing Fargo center Dominic Toninato the entire game. A “puke bucket” was also trailing Toninato at all times on the bench, as he had a stomach bug.

It didn’t stop him from scoring the go-ahead goal less than three minutes into the third period to give the Force a 5-4 lead, capping a rally after the Force went down 4-1 early in the second period.

“My gut is killing me,” Toninato said after the game. “We were down early and we wanted to come back. We came back, battled hard, and it just really shows the character in this locker room. It’s our home ice. It’s definitely good not letting them clinch and put a little pressure on them.”

After taking a 2-1 lead into the second period, Sioux Falls (42-17-2) scored on its first two shots of the second period, as Zeb Knutson and Tony Calderone each scored in the first 80 seconds of the period. For the next 13 minutes the score remained 4-1, and the scoreboard seemed like a countdown for the Stampede. Then, the Force lit it up.

Fargo (37-17-7) scored three goals in a little more than two minutes to tie the game. Chris Dienes fired in a rebound with 5 minutes, 26 seconds left in the second. Dave Gust then netted a goal less than two minutes later, and Neil Goff tied the game 27 seconds after Gust scored.

“It was gift-wrapped,” Goff said. “It bounced out to me, and when it bounces out to you, you just need to get a good chunk of it. It was unreal. We’ve come back before, and it shows what kind of team we are. This might be the biggest win of the season. It’s a statement game going into playoffs.”

By the time Toninato put in the go-ahead goal in the third period, it was a foregone conclusion Fargo was not going to lose the game. Brendan Harms notched his third point of the game on a short-handed goal with 7:23 left in the third and Austin Ortega slammed the door with a power-play goal for the Force five minutes later.

The win kept hope alive for top spot in the Western Conference, as the Force moved within five points of Sioux Falls with three games remaining. With the top two spots in the conference getting home ice for the first round of the playoffs, the win also kept Lincoln four points off the Force for second place in the conference.

“Obviously, we’re checking the other games and seeing how the other teams are doing,” Goff said. “We got two big points tonight, so we’re keeping the gap on Lincoln and going after the top spot still.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1. S, Knutson (Kravchenko) 9:48. 2. F, Iafallo (Toninato, Harms) 13:44. 3. Van Voorhis (Rothstein, Franklin), pp, 19:13.

SECOND PERIOD: 4. S, Knutson (Franklin, Kravchenko) 0:25. 5. S, Calderone (Van Voorhis, Skirving) 1:20. 6. F, Dienes (Nelson) 14:34. 7. F, Gust (Torrel) 16:17. 8. F, Goff 16:44.

THIRD PERIOD: 9. F, Toninato (Iafallo, Harms) 2:19. 10. F, Harms, shorthanded, 7:23. 11. F, Ortega, pp, 12:47.

SAVES: F, Johnson 12-8-11 31 saves. S, Lindgren 11-15-5 31 saves, Jacobson x-x-4 4 saves.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548