A lot has changed since the last time the Force were at home.
They went to Lincoln and split the series at 1 with the Western Conference’s regular season champions. Now the Force find themselves two wins away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four seasons.
With Game 3 starting at 7:05 p.m. tonight, here are some keys to look for:
STARS: Let’s forget about Kevin Roy (Brown), who led the league with 104 points this season and already has two in this series. Instead, focus on Stars captain Brent Tate (Bowling Green) who in essence is everything this series is about. Tate is a physical forward who doesn’t mind getting into it either with his mouth or his body. He likes playing mindgames and at the same time can put up points. He scored 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 45 games this season and had two assists last game. Think about Force forward Austin Farley (Minnesota-Duluth) and how he has a knack for putting up points and getting into a guy’s head. That’s what Tate can do and he’ll probably be doing it quite a bit over the next two games. Also, be wary of what he can do on the power play as he had 14 assists on the one-man advantage this year.
FORCE: Pick anyone between Bryn Chyzyk (North Dakota), Farley or Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan). It has been made extremely clear to all three, especially Hargrove, they need to pick things up in order for this team to go far. There are elements about playing Lincoln which suits aspects of all three players’ game. Chyzyk’s ability to transition defense into offense can come in handy against a team featuring one of the more potent lineups in the league. Farley, if he can also score, could do double damage drawing penalties against Lincoln which was the most penalized team in the league this season. Finally, Hargrove has the skill and the size to take anything Lincoln can give and vice-versa.
STARS: Through two games Stars’ captain Dax Lauwers has stayed out of the penalty box and he’ll need to do that tonight to increase his team’s chances of winning. Lauwers, who is 6-3 and 220 pounds, with his size alone can blanket the Force’s forwards which are considerably smaller. If Lauwers can blanket forwards, make life in the corners difficult and keep a clear crease for goaltender Charles Williams, it would certainly make life a lot easier for the Stars and more challenging for the Force.
FORCE: He isn’t talked about much but this is where a player like Willie Corrin (Minnesota-Duluth) could come in handy. Corrin has been one of this team’s better performers in the playoffs. He has a team-high plus-5 rating and has provided an offensive depth to a blueline which has put up nine points through four games. Corrin hasn’t registered a shot in this series but fired off six in two games against Sioux City. If Corrin can get points and continue his defense, it’ll go a long way.
STARS: Williams might have come into this series with the most questions of any player and he’s easily silenced his critics. He’s been right there with Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) in terms of giving his team a chance and stopping shots. Guy took the Force to overtime in Game 1 and survived a one-goal game, a Stars win, in Game 2. It’s clear CW3 is ready for whatever challenge comes his way. How he’ll perform in Game 3 will really decide how this series will go. Eyes might focus on Roy and others, but this series will either be won or lost by Williams.
FORCE: To a degree, the same goes for Gothberg. The Force’s success does hinge on how well he performs. Gothberg has been the league’s best goaltender judging by statistics in the playoffs leading in virtually every category imaginable. What he needs to do is simple. If he can stop shots, and his defense can cut off angles, he’s extremely hard to beat. Having Gothberg gives the Force an edge over so many teams in the league. It’s just one question remains: Will the Force push the Stars to the edge come Friday or will it be the other way around?