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Recent losses make playoffs more challenging

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Beau Michaud battles with Duluth East's Phil Beaulieu as the loose puck falls between them Monday night at Northwoods Credit Union Arena. East edged the Lumberjacks 3-2. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 2
Cloquet players celebrate a goal by Tanner Robideaux (up against glass) against Duluth East Monday night. The goal, scored at 5:42, gave the 'Jacks a 1-0 lead. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 2

The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team suffered a blow in its quest for home ice in the Section 7AA playoffs thanks to a pair of close losses on Monday and Tuesday night.

The 'Jacks (12-8-2) lost 4-1 at Hermantown last Thursday night, but the truly expensive setbacks came in a 3-2 loss to Duluth East on Monday and a 3-0 loss to Andover on Tuesday, with both games at Northwoods Credit Union Arena.

Yet, to hear Coach Dave Esse tell it, a few bounces of the puck would have had his team in much better shape.

"It's not like we're playing badly," he said. "We had great chances throughout the Andover game and we were ahead 2-0 over East. I was very happy with the play and I thought we competed hard. That's all you can ask for.

"It's not like we're getting outplayed," Esse added. "We're getting good looks (at the goal) but we haven't capitalized. The name of the game is to score."

CEC did that against East, grabbing a 2-0 lead in the first period through goals from Tanner Robideaux and Beau Michaud, only to see the third-ranked Greyhounds reel them in through first-period goals by Ryan Lundgren and Meirs Moore.

Alex Toscano's power-play goal early in the second period was the only other scoring of the game, with CEC being outshot 27-22.

"I thought it was a very good high school hockey game," Esse said. "[East's] skill really helped them at times and their defense is very good. Still, we could have beaten them and that's what we have to strive for."

The Andover game, though, was an exercise in frustration.

The 'Jacks came up dry on six power-play opportunities, while Andover converted two of three attempts.

CEC outshot Andover 35-25 but goaltender Chase Perry literally had all the answers.

"I felt the difference was [Perry]," Esse said. "It was the kind of game where if we execute on the power play we can win by half a dozen. I counted after the second period and there were six chances we had where we could have had breakaways but we didn't get a bounce."

The lack of success on the power play was problematic.

"Even one power-play goal last night changes the whole complexion of the game," Esse said. "We had ample time on the power play but we just didn't score."

The drought with the man advantage has Esse contemplating late-season changes.

"I think we have to shake things up on the power play and see what works," he said. "You have to score. We'll change up some players and see how it goes."

With only three games remaining in the regular season, Esse knows time is running short but the team's issues are still correctable.

"We can play better, even though we aren't playing badly now," he said. "I'm disappointed in the power play, but we aren't shooting enough. We're trying to make the extra pass and we aren't crashing the net hard enough when we do shoot.

"Our goaltending has been very solid," Esse added. "Against Andover we had almost all the pressure and we couldn't score. I really don't know how we didn't get a couple of goals."

The team concludes its regular season with games on Saturday at home against Stillwater, on Monday at home against St. Francis, and on Thursday, Feb. 14, at home against Duluth Marshall.