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Matt Zimmer / Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Published May 05 2013

Sioux Falls forces Game 5 against Fargo

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – When you consider the Sioux Falls Stampede had scored all of 12 goals in eight playoff games entering Game 4 of the United States Hockey League Western Conference Finals, it’s actually pretty lucky for them that they’re still playing.

Of course, that also meant they were almost certain to break through at some point, and sure enough, the dam broke on Sunday at the Arena. And it only took 15 seconds.

Sam Rothstein gave the Stampede the lead with what is likely the quickest goal in team history, and while the Fargo Force continued to battle back all night, they were constantly playing catchup, until Dennis Kravchenko’s empty-netter in the final seconds secured a 5-3 Sioux Falls victory.

With the series tied at 2-2, the Stampede will host the deciding fifth game on Wednesday.

It was a fast-paced and physical game, but with the way the Herd had been struggling to score, Rothstein’s goal was the biggest one, even if half the crowd probably missed it while finding their seats.

“I just got in on the forecheck and got a lucky bounce and put it away,”

Rothstein said. “We haven’t gone up yet in this series, so to finally get the first one was big.”

Coach Cary Eades agreed.

“It was a huge lift,” he said of the quick goal. “The longer we’d have gone without scoring a goal we would’ve started gripping our sticks tighter. We wanted to get a good start to create more Grade A scoring chances and we did that.”

Kravchenko and Rothstein each scored two goals, as the Stampede led 2-1 after one and 3-2 after two. Kravchenko’s first goal gave the Herd some breathing room at 4-2, but Austin Ortega pulled the Force back within a goal with seven minutes to go, his second goal of the game. But even after pulling their goalie for the extra attacker the Force were unable to come up with much of a threat in the final minutes, and Kravchenko put it away.

The Stampede were 2-for-3 on the power play, and among their 38 shots were several other good looks that could’ve made the win a little more comfortable. That’s big for the confidence of a team that had been frustrated offensively.

“I think so,” Kravchenko said when asked if it felt like a weight had been lifted off the team’s shoulders with the offensive output. “We talked about getting shots on net and needing to get guys to the front of the net so we can bury pucks and we did that.”

As the series moves to a rubber game, it’s worth noting just how even it has been. They’ve split two games in Fargo and two games in Sioux Falls, and if you negate Sunday’s empty-netter, all four games have been decided by a single goal.

“I’m sure Fargo’s coaches are proud of their effort,” Eades said. “It’s been disciplined, entertaining hockey. Other than being nervous on the bench, it’s been a lot of fun.”

The Herd are certainly glad they’ll be at home, but it obviously doesn’t guarantee anything.

“They’ve got the advantage of playing at home, but we’ve both been in the same boat,” said Fargo coach John Marks. “We’re here because we’re teams that are capable of coming back. We’ve got a tough task ahead.”

FIRST PERIOD: 1, SF, Rothstein (Siiro) 0:15. 2, F, Ortega (Gust), 6:11. 3, SF, Rothstein (Knutson, Franklin) 12:04 (pp).

SECOND PERIOD: 4, F, Toninato (Dienes, Nelson), 6:18. 5, SF, Forgione (Calderone, Skirving) 8:17 (pp).

THIRD PERIOD: 6, SF, Kravchenko (Hand) 9:50. 7, F, Ortega (Gust), 12:49. 8, SF, Kravchenko (Knutson), 19:51 (EN)

SAVES: Fargo, Johnson, 33. Sioux Falls, Lindgren, 21.