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Blizzard hockey: Alexandria still believes

Mick Dhein is shooting for a Blizzard comeback as Alexandria hosts Granite City in a must-win game Friday night in the NA3HL playoffs.

It isn't often a team returns home down 0-2 in a best-of-five playoff series and feels good about how it's playing.

That is the position the Blizzard finds itself in, though, as Alexandria welcomes in Granite City for a must-win game three at the Runestone Community Center tonight. The Blizzard is in a hole despite outshooting the Lumberjacks in both games last weekend. That leads head coach Jeff Crouse to believe that his team just needs a few breaks at home to get back in this series.

"We deserved to win both those games," Crouse said on Tuesday afternoon. "We did things better than them, but they scored at opportune times and we haven't."

Crouse said the biggest difference was the play of Granite City goaltender Scott Murray and the Lumberjacks' ability to convert on the power play. Alexandria had a man advantage nine times over the two games but converted just one of those. Granite City got two big power-play goals through the first two periods on Saturday and took advantage of three of their 10 chances over the weekend.

Murray's play in net made it almost impossible for Alexandria to recover from that. He stopped 54 of the 58 shots sent his way over the weekend to up his overall record to 25-4 on the season.

"They're getting really good goaltending right now," Crouse said. "We're getting good goaltending at times, so it's capitalizing on the power play and then goaltending. Overall, our effort is there. The results just haven't been there. It is frustrating, but on the flip side, the guys also know we can beat them."

Alexandria could use a couple of its premier players to step up on their home ice if they want to make this a series. Leading scorer Ian Ecklund was held to just two points over the weekend and without a goal. Garrett Skinner was also held scoreless.

"It needs to be early in the game, we need something positive to happen," Crouse said. "It's going to have to be a big goal by one of our top guns because they've been kind of shut down. We're going to need Ian Ecklund or Garrett Skinner to get a big goal for us. If we can win Friday, I'm definitely thinking it's going to go five games, and I'll take my chances in a third game in three days at Granite City."

It will be an uphill climb for this Blizzard team to beat Granite City three straight games to extend its playoff run. The Lumberjacks moved to 9-1 against Alexandria this season with the two wins last weekend. Despite that, Crouse says it's a group of players that believe they can still turn things around on their home ice.

Game three will get started with a 7 p.m. drop of the puck tonight. Game four will be back at the RCC at the same time on Saturday if necessary. A game five would take place back in Sauk Rapids at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

"The guys are very upbeat," Crouse said. "They took care of business at their home rink. Now we need to do the same. Our attitude is still very high. Our defense has been there. It's just a matter of getting that big goal when we really need it."

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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