Sioux Falls, SD—The Sioux Falls Stampede had already made two trips to Kearney in a week, they made sure there wouldn’t be a third as the Herd blasted Tri-City 7-3 before 5,012 fans at the PREMIER Center in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final Saturday night. With the win, the Herd clinched the series 3-1 and advance to the Clark Cup Final for the first time since 2007 when they won their only Clark Cup title. The Stampede will face either Dubuque or Muskegon starting next Friday on the road. Their Eastern Conference Final series is tied 2-2 with Game 5 set for Tuesday night in Dubuque. The Herd will host Game 3 of the Clark Cup Final series on May 15 and, if necessary, Game 4 on May 17.

Kieffer Bellows tallied a hat trick while Mikey Eyssimont added two goals of his own and Stefanos Lekkas continued his brilliant play between the pipes with 35 saves in the victory.  With the win, the Herd knocked off the two top seeds in the Western Conference after defeating top seeded Sioux City in five games in the first round.

Tri-City knew they wanted to get off to a good start and they did just that scoring 31 seconds into the game. Vince Pedrie missed Game 3 with a suspension and made his presence known right away in Game 4, wristing a shot from the left circle past Stampede goaltender Stefanos Lekkas to give the Storm an early 1-0 edge. The goal seemed to wake the Stampede up who scored just five minutes later when Mikey Eyssimont took a pass in the right circle from Dakota Joshua and skated towards the goal before backhanding a shot over the left shoulder of Tri-City goaltender Jared Rutledge. Sioux Falls went on the power play three minutes later and cashed in when Cooper Marody’s shot from the top of the left circle was tipped in mid air by Kieffer Bellows and past the glove side of Rutledge to give the Herd a 2-1 lead. The Herd weren’t done in the period as they took a 3-1 lead when Eyssimont tallied his second of the night. With the puck back behind the goal line and near the back boards, Eyssimont took a shot towards the Tri-City net and bounced the puck off the back of Rutledge and into the back of the net to bring the PREMIER Center crowd to their feet. That’s how the period would end with the Storm outshooting the Herd 14-10.

Sioux Falls picked up right where they left off and added to their lead 4:07 when Kieffer Bellows tallied his second goal of the season and his fifth of the playoffs. Cooper Marody wristed as shot onto Rutledge who made a left pad save, but the rebound bounced into the right circle where Bellows backhanded the puck into the air and just under the crossbar to make it a 4-1 game. It stayed that way until 11:42when J.M. Piotrowski tallied his first goal of the playoffs. Lekkas made a tremendous pad save that bounced to Lawton Courtnall and bursted down the middle of the ice and crossed over the Tri-City blue line and slid a pass to the right circle to J.M. Piotrowski who blasted a shot past the glove side of Rutledge to make 5-1 in favor of the home team. Tri-City would come back with a goal late in the period, but the Herd still led 5-2 after two.

Tri-City got back in the game at 6:47 of the third when Chris Wilkie flipped the puck over the glove of Lekkas, off the goalpost and into the net to make it 5-3. The Storm nearly made it 5-4 when it looked as though they may have scored but replay showed the puck went off a Storm glove and then was kicked into the goal so it was disallowed and the game remained 5-3. Kieffer Bellows allowed fans to relax when he completed the hat trick at 15:26 when he broke in down the left wing wall on a partial breakaway and backhanded a shot past Rutledge who tried to poke check the puck away. The goal was Bellows sixth of the playoffs. Troy Loggins added an empty netter just over a minute later for his league leading 8th of the playoffs and Sioux Falls won the game 7-3.

Sioux Falls outshot Tri-City 11-7 in the final period, but were outshot 38-30 on the night. Both teams finished the night 1-for-2 on the power play.

The Stampede will open Clark Cup Final action next Friday at either Dubuque or Muskegon. A complete series schedule will be available after Tuesday night’s game and ticket information for Games 3 and 4 at the PREMIER Center will be made available in the coming days.

** Information provided by the Sioux Falls Stampede and Jim Olander