Thursday, April 19, 2012

B³ Clark Cup Playoff Preview: Fargo Force

The Lincoln Stars will open play in the 2012 USHL Clark Cup Playoffs against the Fargo Force this weekend in their second round series matchup.

Click here to view the Pointstreak playoff bracket.

This will be a best-of-five series (first team to win three games wins).  Here are the particulars of each game:

Game 1: Friday, April 20th, 7:05 PM – Fargo @ Lincoln
Game 2: Saturday, April 21st, 7:05 PM – Fargo @ Lincoln
Game 3: Wednesday, April 25th, 7:05 PM – Lincoln @ Fargo
Game 4: Friday, April 27th, 7:35 PM – Lincoln @ Fargo (if necessary)
Game 5: Saturday, April 28th, 7:05 PM – Fargo @ Lincoln (if necessary)

The Force earned the right to play the Stars thanks to a two-game sweep of the Sioux City Musketeers in the first round of the Clark Cup playoffs.  Fargo outscored Sioux City 7-2 in the two wins.  Force goaltender Zane Gothberg stopped 53 of 55 shots in the series win.

The Stars and Force met eight times in the 2011-12 USHL regular season with Lincoln going 5-3-0 in those 8 contests.  Lincoln went 2-2-0 at the IceBox against the Force and went 3-1-0 in four games on the road in Fargo.

The Stars will try to win their first playoff game in three years this Friday night.  Yes, three years.  Back on April 17th, 2009, the Stars beat the Sioux Falls Stampede 6-1 to win their first round playoff series.  In the second round, the Stars were swept by the Fargo Force, three games to zero.

After not making the playoffs in 2010, the Stars faced the Fargo Force again in the 2011 playoffs and were swept in two games.  So the Stars are 0-5 in their last five playoffs games and each of those losses have come against Fargo. So here we are in 2012, and the Stars will face the Force yet again.  Lets hope for better results.

This should be one heck of a series.  Although the Stars won five of eight games against Fargo in the regular season, this is a new beginning and I really don't think either team will be thinking of those eight games.  For Lincoln, I think it's important they come out strong Friday night and take the play to the Force.  I thought the Stars did a very good job crashing the net last Friday night in Lincoln's 4-2 win over Fargo.

From my seat, it looked like the Stars got into the head of Force goaltender Zane Gothberg in that game last Friday at the IceBox.  Gothberg is arguably one of the top goaltenders in the USHL.  He's a NHL draft pick of the Boston Bruins, and will play college hockey at the University of North Dakota this fall.  I think he's the key for Fargo in this series.  He's more than capable of stealing games.  As Gothberg goes, so do the Force.

For Lincoln, I expect Charles Williams to start Friday night at the IceBox.  He's earned the #1 starter position for Lincoln, in my opinion.  CW3 is playing is best hockey of the season, and looked great last Friday at the IceBox in the win over the Force.

Personally, I think the Stars matchup pretty well against Fargo.  I like Lincoln's depth on offense, and I think the hulks we have on defense can wear down the smaller Force forwards over the course of a five game series.  Put 'em in a meat grinder, and start cranking.  Wear them down, and let Roy and Company put pucks on Gothberg.  I'm not sure how the refs will call games in the playoffs, but traditionally less calls are made which will benefit Lincoln.  Still, the Stars must play smart hockey.  No retaliatory, or just plain stupid penalties.  Play physical, in-your-face hockey, but play smart.

The Stars worked hard all season long, especially as of late, to earn home ice for the playoffs.  Now it's time for us to do our part and make the IceBox an intimidating place to play.  Drag all the friends and family you can to both games this weekend.  Believe in Black and Blue!  Be LOUD!

Go Stars.

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