Big Third Period Leads Fargo Back to Clark Cup Finals

Fargo Force Clark Cup Logo (Courtesy of Fargo Force)
Fargo Force Clark Cup Logo (Courtesy of Fargo Force)

The Force had an opportunity to finish out the Western Conference Finals in Lincoln Monday night and advance to the Clark Cup Finals if they could defeat a very tough Lincoln Stars team for a third time in five days.  The Force got an important victory in Game 3 but that one win matched their season win total in Lincoln this season. Anton Castro started Game 3 in net for the Force but would the coaching staff start him once again or would they go with Matej Marinov who had pitched a shutout in Game 1 of the series.

In the first period, the Force started Game 1 hero Marinov in net and things looked good as Owen Mehlenbacher would score the game’s first goal just 52 seconds into the contest. However, Lincoln would answer just 33 seconds later on a Doug Grimes goal to tie the game at 1-1. Cole Knuble would score his first goal of the evening at 2:48 to regain the lead for the Force at 2-1. Fargo’s Kyle Smolen would be called for a 5 minute major for Head Contact and would be issued a game misconduct as well. Fargo was able to kill off the major penalty without surrendering a goal.  Both teams would seem to settle in as the goaltenders found their footing. Doug Grimes would score a second goal at 11:41 to tie the game at 2-2, but once again the Force would respond with a Charlie Russell power-play goal less than two minutes later. Leading 3-2 things were looking bright for the Force, but two late power plays by the Stars would net them two goals to take a 4-3 lead into the first intermission.

The second period would start with a change in net for the Force as they inserted Anton Castro into the lineup after Marinov’s first period struggles. The change in net would solidify the Force defense as Castro would stop all seven shots he faced. Fargo was unable to even the score, but just as they had in the first period, they were only able to get five shots on goal and went to the second intermission still trailing by the score of 4-3.

The third period started with Fargo finishing off the penalty kill from a Kevin Scott penalty at the end of the second period just one second into the final period only to go back on the penalty kill six seconds later when Bret Link was called for interference. Lincoln was unable to capitalize on the man advantage and give themselves an insurance goal at the beginning of the period. At 5:58 of the final period Cole Knuble was able to put home a rebound off a Mac Swanson shot that would tie the game for the Force and swing the momentum to their side of the ice.  Approximately two minutes later Fargo took advantage of a power play that was the result of a Tanner Ludtke tripping penalty when Owen Mehlenbacher would score his second goal of the contest and would finally allow the Force to retake the lead at 5-4. The Force weren’t done yet as Cole Knuble got the hat trick less than a minute and a half later on the Force power play to give the Force a commanding 6-4 with half a period to go. The Force would add two empty net goals after Lincoln pulled out all the stops in order to save their season, one by Knuble and the other by Mac Swanson.

The Game’s 3 Stars were 1st Star Cole Knuble, 2nd Owen Mehlenbacher and 3rd Star Doug Grimes.

This is Fargo's sixth appearance in the Clark Cup Finals, with Fargo winning their lone Clark Cup in 2018. The Force will face the winner of the Youngstown versus Chicago series which currently has Youngstown leading 2-1. Game four of that series is tonight in Youngstown at 6:05 PM. If Youngstown were to clinch the series tonight Game 1 of the Clark Cup Finals would begin Friday Night in Fargo, however, if the series goes to a decisive Game 5, the Clark Cup Series would start Saturday night at Scheels Arena.