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Lead slips away for Blizzard as Granite City forces game three

The Blizzard's Joe Anderson gets ready to release a penalty shot that he scored on to give the Blizzard a 2-1 lead early in the third period on Saturday night. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

There will be a game three in the West Division playoffs.

Granite City made sure of that by edging Alexandria 3-2 at the Runestone Community Center on Saturday night after scoring the game winner on a shorthanded goal. The Lumberjacks’ Taylor Brown got behind the defense and brought the puck toward the net from the left side. He carried it in front of the crease before sneaking it past Blizzard goalie Kyle Miller with five minutes, 42 seconds left in the game.

“Just a lucky bounce,” Miller said. “He took it and went wide and he beat me far side. I definitely should have had that one, but it happens. We’ll get them tomorrow.”

Tomorrow is when the two teams will play a decisive game three back at Granite City at 5 p.m. to see who will advance to face North Iowa in the division championship series. The Blizzard looked like it might wrap things up against the Lumberjacks after taking a 1-0 lead on an Aaron Ryback power-play goal in the first period, and a 2-1 lead on a Joe Anderson penalty shot less than a minute into the third period.

Anderson was taken down on a breakaway after he got loose with the puck during a Granite City power play. The Blizzard forward had a clear path to the net, but was taken down from behind on the shot. He made Granite City pay by burying the penalty shot to give his team the one-goal lead.

The Lumberjacks answered almost nine minutes later when Travis Kothenbeutel found the net. That shifted the momentum before Brown scored what turned out to be the game winner almost four minutes later.

“We put ourselves in position to win it tonight and it didn’t happen,” Blizzard head coach Jeff Crouse said. “We played well, but that’s the way it is against Granite City. It’s playoff hockey, battling down to the end. We’ve been good [in Granite City]. We’ve won three games down there, and I think we’re better conditioned than they are, so I think that’s going to play a factor.”

The two teams had a combined 11 power plays in the game with both teams converting on one of those. Most of those came in the second period when eight penalties were called. The Blizzard have talked about staying out of the box a lot this season, and know it’s important heading into a win-or-go-home situation on Sunday night.

“It always is against Granite,” Miller said. “If we stay out of the box, we’ll win the game.”

Miller made some big saves in the first period to keep it a scoreless game after one period. The Lumberjacks outshot the Blizzard 14-6 in that frame and put up 36 shots in the game, to Alexandria’s 32. Crouse said Miller will get the start in goal again on Sunday.

“He’s been really good,” Crouse said. “He was really good in the first period last night, too. I thought we came out and took the play to them. We took some penalties and they got going a little bit. They’re kind of a power play team. Five on five, I thought for the most part, we’ve been dominating them.”

The Blizzard would have loved to wrap up the series at home, but there is no doubt this team believes it can steal another game on the road with the season on the line on Sunday.

“I’m very confident,” Miller said. “We were in it with them in this game. Last game, we dominated them. They were tired, and we’re just a better team.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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