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Eric Peterson, Published April 26 2013

Force’s Johnson makes 30 saves to help Fargo take series lead

FARGO – When things got chaotic around Cam Johnson, the Fargo Force goalie remained calm Friday night at Scheels Arena.

Johnson covered a loose puck off a scrum in front of the net with about a minute to play in the third period. His steady play helped the Force earn a 3-2 victory against Sioux Falls in the Western Conference finals of the United States Hockey League Clark Cup playoffs.

“One of their guys threw it to the front and it hit something and it was trickling in and I got my skate on it,” said Johnson, who finished with 30 saves. “I finally got a hold of it and iced the puck.”

The Force took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5 series. Game 2 is at 7:05 tonight at Scheels Arena.

“I’m happy that we won, but the problem is we put ourselves in a situation that we could have lost,” Force head coach John Marks said. “We can’t play that way and win the series.”

The Force scored a goal in each period, taking a two-goal lead 61 seconds into the final period. Gabe Guertler deflected a puck into the net that gave the Force a 3-1 lead. On that play, Guertler redirected a Taylor Fleming shot, which came from just inside the blue line.

“It’s easy to play with the lead,” Johnson said. “I just play with confidence that I’m going to stop the puck.”

The Stampede rallied late, pulling their goalie with 3:49 remaining after the Force were called for a penalty. That gave Sioux Falls a 6-on-4 advantage with an open net. Stampede right wing Zeb Knutson scored a rebound goal on that power play, cutting the Force lead to

3-2 at 17:46 of the third period.

“We made it hard on ourselves,” Marks said. “We didn’t play very smart and they are too good a team.”

Johnson, however, made sure the lead stood, keeping the puck out of the net in the final two minutes.

“I just tried to hold it down there at the end because they’ve got a great team,” Johnson said. “They throw a lot of guys to the front of the net. I had faith that our team would be able to clear the loose pucks.”

The Force never trailed, taking a 1-0 lead after left wing Gage Torrel scored at 17:06 of the first period. Sioux Falls countered less than 30 seconds later with a Preston Hodge goal.

Dominic Toninato gave the Force the lead for good, scoring less than 30 seconds into the second period. Toninato skated in alone on Sioux Falls goalie Charlie Lindgren before tucking the puck into the net. That gave the Force a 2-1 lead.

“It’s huge to grab the first game,” Johnson said. “We will be playing with confidence (today).”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, FF, Torrel (Fleming) 17:06. 2, SF, Hodge 17:34.

SECOND PERIOD: 3, FF, Toninato (Iafallo, Harms) 0:25.

THIRD PERIOD: 4, FF, Guertler (Fleming) 1:01. 5, SF, Knutson (Valesano) 17:46 (pp).

SAVES: SF, Lindgren 14-13-7-34. FF, Johnson 9-15-6-30.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com