This time a loss to Fargo wasn't because of a lack of effort.
The Omaha Lancers let Fargo hang around Saturday night, and the Force made them regret that generosity with a third-period goal that produced a 3-2 United States Hockey League victory.
It was the second time in as many nights that the Lancers — who now have lost three of their last four games — let offensive chances slip away that could have produced a multi-goal victory or two.
“I'm not sure how much better we can play,” Omaha coach Mike Aikens said. “We had a ton of scoring chances and we didn't give up a ton of scoring chances, so you expect to win that game.”
Instead, the Lancers fell to 17-15 halfway through the 64-game regular season. Omaha is in fifth place in the Western Conference, five points behind Lincoln and one spot out of a spot in the Clark Cup playoffs.
But those fields aren't set until mid-April, so the Lancers know there's still time to get things turned around, even if that task got a little harder after falling four more points behind the second-place Force.
Omaha scored first when Matias Cleland took a slick crossing pass from Robbie Baillargeon on the right wing and blasted the puck past Fargo goalie Brendan Jensen for a power-play goal at 7:26. The Lancers now are 13-4 when scoring the first goal of a game.
Fargo responded with two goals in a stretch of just over six minutes. The first Force goal was scored by former Lancer Kenny Gillespie when he picked up a loose puck at the right side of the net and pushed it past starting goalie Alex Lyon at 11:06 for his ninth goal of the season.
Gillespie's goal was just Fargo's second shot of the game. The Lancers had opened the game before a Ralston Arena crowd of 3,364 with the first eight shots, including Cleland's goal.
Lyon was replaced by Cole Bruns after the goal because the Yale recruit aggravated a lower body injury that sidelined him for three games earlier this season.
“We had Cole loosening up before the goal,” Aikens said. “Alex didn't have to face any shots for so long that he wasn't sure until then.”
The Force scored again at 17:34 on the third goal of the season by defenseman Chris Dienes courtesy of an assist from Gavin Bayreuther, his second of the game.
Omaha got that goal back with just 40 seconds remaining before the first intermission when Luca Frigo scored on a sharp angle shot from the left wing off the right shoulder of Jensen.
The teams played to a scoreless draw in the second period, and remained that way during the first 10 minutes of the third period before another faceoff mistake produced what proved to be the winning goal for the Force.
Dominic Toninato cleaned up a rebound at the right side of the crease for his 14th goal of the season and second game-winner for the Force (19-9-5).
“We were not good on faceoffs all weekend,” Aikens said. “You can't lose draws clean because at some point it's going to cost you.”
The Lancers are on the road for two games next weekend — Friday at Dubuque and Saturday at Chicago — before returning to Ralston Arena for a 7:05 p.m. game Jan. 16 against Cedar Rapids.
Fargo (19-9-5) ................. 2 0 1—3
At Omaha (17-15-0) ................. 2 0 0—2
First period: 1, O, Matias Cleland (Robbie Baillargeon, Tucker Poolman), 7:26 (power play). 2, F, Kenny Gillespie (Gavin Bayreuther, Jordan Nelson), 11:06. 3, F, Chris Dienes (Bayreuther), 17:34. 4, O, Luca Frigo (Tyler Moy, Cole Bruns), 19:19.
Third period: 5, F, Dominic Toninato (Dienes), 10:21.
Shots on goal:
Fargo ................. 6 9 5—20
Omaha ................. 12 8 7—27
Power plays: Fargo 0 for 1; Omaha 1 for 2.
Penalties-minutes: Fargo 2-4; Omaha 1-2.
Goalies: Fargo, Brendan Jensen (27 shots, 25 saves, 60:00). Omaha, Alex Lyon (2 shots, 1 saves, 11:06); Cole Bruns (18 shots, 16 saves, 48:35).
Three stars: Jensen, Frigo, Tyler Hynes.
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