The agony of watching the final two games of the USHL's Eastern Conference Finals from the stands hurt Peter Quenneville a lot more than the injury that prevented him from making any kind of twisting motion.
But, given six days to heal, the Dubuque Fighting Saints right wing returned to his usual sniper ways Saturday night. Quenneville scored two key goals to spark a 4-1 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,110 that pushed the season-long attendance at Mystique Commuity Ice Center to 102,065.
The Saints took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series and can win their second Clark Cup in three seasons on Friday night in North Dakota.
"That was one of the more frustrating things I've been through," Quenneville said of the injury sufferd in Game 3 of the Youngstown series. "The playoffs were going along good, and all of the sudden I was out for a little bit. Thankfully, the boys came through with a big win in Game 5 and gave me a chance to play again.
"It's a great feeling to get back, have a good week of practice and contribute to a big win."
Quenneville opened the scoring 11:14 into the game on a laser of a slap shot two strides in from the blueline at the left point. Frankie DiChiara and Kyle McKenzie assisted.
Dubuque doubled its lead 3:38 later after McKenzie chipped the puck out of his own end to Matt Benning, who carried down the right wing and blasted a slap shot through Brendan Jensen's leg pads.
"Mac made a great play, and we kind of caught them in a line change," Benning said. "I just turned on the jets, took the D-man wide and slid it five-hole.
"It was a huge goal, and it felt awesome. We'd been playing well, but we needed something like that to give us a shot of adrenaline."
The goal ended Jensen's night after only six shots. Cam Johnson stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced over the final 43:07 of the game in relief.
Fargo finally solved Saints goaltender Arthur Brey at 1:16 of the second period. Alex Iafallo scored on the doorstep rebound of a Chris Buchanan blast.
"Fargo played a very good game tonight, and, to our credit, we raised our level as much as they did," Saints coach Jim Montgomery said. "Territorially, we had moments where we dominated.
"It's nice to be up, 2-0. But, as we've seen the last two series, the toughest game to win is the one that ends another team's season. And it's even tougher when there's a championship on the line."
Just as they did Friday night, the Saints responded 3 minutes after a Fargo goal. On their first power play of the night, Quenneville potted his second of the night. Mike Szmatula carried the puck behind the Fargo net and reversed a pass back to Quenneville, who scored on a perfectly placed one-timer for a 3-1 lead. Niklas Nevalainen earned a secondary assist.
Fargo pressured the Saints in the third period and had Brey scrambling in the final minutes with Johnson pulled for a sixth attacker.
"Finally, in the third period we got things going, and had a few chances that could have tied it up," Fargo coach John Marks said. "Human nature says that's desperation. But there were at least three or four times there where we had the puck in the blue paint and we were digging hard, but we just couldn't put one home."
Dubuque sealed the victory on an empty net goal by Szmatula after he raced to avoid an icing call with 7 seconds remaining in regulation. Michael Downing and Evan Janssen assisted.
"Fargo came out hard, and they were throwing everything at us in that third period," Szmatula said. "But we've been working on our third periods, making sure we end strong. Tonight we did that. We kept our composure and we finished strong."
The Saints improved to 7-0 in the playoffs at Mystique, where they posted a league-best 25-3-4 record during the regular season.
Brey stopped 25 shots to improve to 8-1 with a 1.64 goals against average and .934 save percentage in the playoffs.
"I have one simple task, and that's stopping the puck," Brey said. "I have a great team in front of me, and I can't say enough about the effort. They bailed me out more than once tonight."
The Force averaged 3.6 goals per game in their two five-game series with Waterloo and Sioux Falls to get here. But both nights they were limited to one goal by Brey, who led the USHL in goals against average during the regular season.
"Dubuque's a great defensive team," Force forward Kenny Gillespie said. "They're moving the puck D-to-D and out quickly, and it's giving us a hard time. We're a fast team and we like to play with speed, but they're taking that away from us.
"We're not sure if we should dump the puck in or skate it in. The nice thing is we have a week to figure it out. We've been playing a lot of games lately, and it seems like we're playing a little tired. But I know we'll recuperate and play hard Friday night."