FARGO — The Fargo Force’s backs are against the wall, but that’s where they’ve been at their best in the playoffs.
The Force can’t afford another loss after falling to Chicago 7-1 in Game 3 of the United States Hockey League Clark Cup Finals on Friday at Scheels Arena. The Steel took a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-five series and need just one more win to seal the championship.
Game 4 is Saturday back at Scheels Arena and if necessary, Game 5 would be Tuesday in Chicago.
“It’s a playoff series. You’ve got to win three games, not two,” Force coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux said. “Tomorrow night is do-or-die. We need tomorrow night’s game. Our plan is to win tomorrow night and get on the bus back to Chicago.”
Do-or-die situations are familiar ground for the Force in these playoffs. They were just over a minute away from being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. They tied Game 2 of that series with 74 seconds to go and went on to win in overtime. Then they overcame a deficit to win Game 3.
They are going to have to draw on that experience to try to come back in this series. They’ll need to win two games in a row, including one on the road. But the Force have already won one game in Chicago in the series — 3-0 in Game 1.
“Either you play tomorrow night and extend your season and give yourself a chance to win a championship, or your season is done,” Lamoureux said. “I think our urgency is going to be at an all-time high. We’re going to be ready to go tomorrow night.”
After being shut out in the opening game of the series, the Steel have gone on to score a combined 11 goals in Games 2 and 3. They bounced back to score four in Game 2 and then seven in Game 3.
Chicago center Matt Coronato has been red hot this postseason and kept it rolling on Friday. He added two goals and an assist to extend his team-high points tally to 13 in seven playoff games. He had seven goals and three assists entering the game.
Coronato opened the scoring for the Steel with a tic-tac-toe goal midway through the first period. His second goal was a hustle play. It appeared the Force’s goalie had the puck corralled after a save, but it popped out and sat down in the crease. As the keeper tried to locate it, Coronato crashed in and dove into the crease and poked the puck in. His assist came on a goal by Erik Middendorf that made it 2-1.
Josh Doan, Sean Farrell, Adam Fantilli, and Sam Lipkin scored the Steel’s other goals.
“Our puck management has to be better,” Lamoureux said. “I think we played into Chicago’s hands early on with some turnovers that led to turnovers and goals against us. That’s No. 1. We’ve got to take care of the puck and make smarter decisions with it, which we know we can and we’ve shown we can. When we had success against them in Game 1, we were smart with our decisions.”
Fargo’s lone goal came 13 seconds after the Steel’s first goal. Tristan Broz skated through the defense and tried to set up a backhander, but the goalie poked it away. Cody Monds crashed in and netted the rebound to tie it up at 1. But the tie didn’t survive the first period.
Force goalie Brennan Boynton made his first start since being ejected from Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, but was pulled for Andrew Miller in the second period.
Miller filled in incredibly for Boynton during his suspension. He posted back-to-back shutouts in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals and Game 1 of the Clark Cup Finals. He finally allowed a goal a little over a minute into the first period of Game 2. Miller went 149 minutes, 41 seconds consecutively without yielding a goal, the second longest streak in Clark Cup Playoffs history.
FIRST: 1, C, Coronato (Doan, Farrell) 12:29 pp. 1, F, Minds (Broz) 12:42. 1, F, Minds (Broz, Siedem) 12:42. 2, C, Middendorf (Samoskevich, Coronato) 19:17.
SECOND: 3, C, Coronato (Ufko) 4:58. 4, C, Doan (Farrell) 10:44.
THIRD: 5, C, Farrell (Doan) 3:21. 6, C, Fantilli (Samoskevich, Moore) 17:33 pp. 7, C, Lipkin (Huard) pp.
SAVES: F, Boynton 13, Miller 13; C, Latkoczy 22.