The Sioux Falls Stampede's improbable 2012-13 campaign came to end Wednesday night as they fell to the Fargo Force 7-4 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in front of 4,348 at the Arena. Fargo used four straight goals to overcome an early 2-0 Stampede lead and withstood a third period rally to move on to face the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL Clark Cup Finals.
"The season's over. It's crushing," said head coach Cary Eades. "Somebody goes home and somebody goes on. That's the reality of life."
Four different players scored for Sioux Falls, while Charlie Lindgren stopped 40 of 46 shots. The loss wraps up an unexpected year in which the Herd set franchise records for wins, home win and points in a season.
"This team has done lot for this organization," said Eades. "They set a culture and a foundation of success."
Two lightning-quick goals with 21 ticks of each other built a 2-0 pad for the Herd in the first period, starting with a nifty score from Tony Calderone. The Princeton recruit whirled around in the left circle and rocketed puck the home at 5:35. His linemate Todd Skirving multiplied the lead before fans had time to finish celebrating the first goal, whipping the puck into the basket close from the right side just 57 seconds later. Fargo took a timeout shortly, allowing the club to regain composure and hit the scoreboard minutes later at the 7:41 marks thanks to Kenny Gillespie.
The first of three unanswered goals in the period came at exactly 2:00 when Taylor Fleming nailed the rebound in between the circles to even it up 2-2. Fargo finally snatched the lead 4:26 later when a deflected puck founds its way past Lindgren, making it three consecutive Force goals after the Herd had started with a 2-0 lead earlier in the first. The Herd had an opening to tie things with their first power play at 9:58 but couldn't get any quality shots on Johnson. Brendan Harms jumped the margin to 4-2 with 2:11 to go before intermission, leaving the Herd in a two-goal hole entering the final 20 minutes of the Western Conference Finals.
"They (Fargo) raised their level of play, and we weren't able to match it," said Eades.
Sioux Falls finally stopped the bleeding when hometown product Zeb Knutson rifled a shot from the left circle 5:32 into the third, cutting the seemingly insurmountable Fargo lead to 4-3. Captain Ryan Siiro continued the Herd rally 57 seconds later, waiting for the perfect shot and nailing it past Johnson to tie it 4-4 and brought the 4,348 faithful to their feet.
However, the Force regained the lead and the game's momentum with 9:30 left courtesy of Kenny Gillespie and his second goal of the night. Another Fargo goal by Alex Iafallo 1:49 later provided the Force another two-goal lead and brought it to 6-4 with 8:41 remaining. An empty net goal with 40 seconds left sealed the 7-4 Fargo Force Game 5 victory.
The Force are now moving on to the Clark Cup Finals and will face the Dubuque Fighting Saints who defeated the Youngstown Phantoms in game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night.
This is Fargo's third trip to the finals following a run in the 2008-09 inaugural season and then in 2009-10.