Sometimes the villain can also turn out to be hero and vice versa. During the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals, some believed that Shane O’Brien could have been the villain, but if it wasn’t for his play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hershey Bears – a team already up 2-0 in the series – the Pirates might have been looking at a much shorter series than what turned out to be an epic seven game battle.
Portland, ME – Many fans still have harsh memories of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2006, when the Hershey Bears battled back against the Portland Pirates in Game 7 to win the series on an Eric Fehr slap shot.
Many wanted to pin the blame for the loss on Pirates’ defenseman Shane O’Brien for taking back-to-back minor penalties, which would eventually lead to Graham Mink’s game-tying goal with just a little over two minutes left to play in the game.
Maybe, but hopefully time has healed all wounds from that game as everybody has moved on to bigger and better things.
O’Brien, playing in the NHL for the Tampa Bay Lighting is now one of their top defenseman and has certainly impressed quite a few people, since breaking into the league on a full time basis. As for the Pirates, they’ve enjoyed three successful seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, both on the ice and off, and now Portland has a bright future ahead of them with their new affiliation with the Buffalo Sabres.
However, let’s not forget that it was O’Brien who put Portland back into a series that they very easily could have found themselves eliminated from in four games.
The Pirates had two very tough series against the Providence Bruins and Hartford Wolf Pack and injuries and call-ups were beginning to take their toll on the team. Dustin Penner was in Anaheim and several players including Bruno St. Jacques, Maxim Kondratiev and Zenon Konopka weren’t at full strength due to various ailments. Most played hurt, others who were forced to sit because they were too injured to play had their spots filled by players such Garett Bembridge and JB Bittner. Maybe not NHL prospects, but they had character.
The first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals took place in Portland, but due to scheduling conflicts, the series wouldn’t be on a traditional 2-2-1-1-1 or 2-3-2 format, but rather a 2-2-2-1, resulting in a potential game seven not being played in Portland, but rather at the Giant Center in Hershey.
Portland knew they had to take care of business and early, if they wanted prevent that game from ever being played.
It almost wasn’t played, but for the wrong reasons as the Bears jumped all over the Pirates at the Cumberland County Civic Center, winning Game 1, 5-0, and Game 2 in OT by a score of 2-1.
Going into Hershey, Portland knew if they lost that game, their chances of winning the series was going to be slim. The Bears had yet to lose in the Calder Cup playoffs, eliminating Norfolk and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton each in four games, respectively.
After a scoreless first period, in which shots were 9-7 in favor of the Bears, the second period was full of numerous scoring opportunities as the Pirates more than doubled their scoring chances from the first period outshooting the Bears 19-11. The offensive pressure paid off early in the period, when Zenon Konopka scored his 10th of the playoffs at 2:22 of the period.
Four minutes later, the Pirates found themselves down 2-1 when Dave Steckel and Tomas Fleischmann scored just 23 seconds apart.
Pierre Parenteau and Steckel (with his second of the game) exchanged goals before Ryan Shannon tied the game at 3-3 for Portland after 40 minutes of play.
In the third period, it looked like the Pirates were heading for a 0-3 deficit as Colin Forbes and Fleischmann scored to give the Bears a 5-3 lead midway into the final period.
However, the Pirates weren’t about to let Hershey have the game that easy. With 5:22 left in regulation, Konopka blasted a shot from the right face-off circle, beating Bears’ goaltender Frederic Cassivi for his second of the night to pull the Pirates to within a goal.
“In the third period this year (the players) have had a never-say-die attitude, and you saw that tonight,” said Pirates’ head coach Kevin Dineen.
Just 22 seconds later, Garett Bembridge tied the game at 5-5, silencing the 6,351 in attendance at the Giant Center as Portland seized the momentum of the game.
After a scoreless first OT, the tension was building as next goal would great implications of the future of the series. The Pirates would either be down 0-3 or down by one with Game 4 just around the corner.
At 7:19 of the second OT, Hershey’s Boyd Kane was called for hooking, putting the Pirates on a power play, one that had been very successful on the night, scoring three times on seven attempts.
O’Brien, the only defenseman on the ice for Portland picked up the pass from Konopka and fired a bullet from the right point, through a screen of bodies in front of Cassivi. The puck bounced of several bodies and trickled by the Bears goaltender, giving the Pirates an exhilarating victory and a new lease on the series.
Game 3 turned out to be one of the most dramatic come from behind wins in Pirates franchise history. Not only did they beat a team, who had yet to lose in the Calder Cup playoffs, but also they did it playing on the road in Hershey and they came from two goals down with a little more than five minutes left to play in the game.
Shane O’Brien summed it up best after the game.
“We went down 5-3, and we said, ‘What do we have to win, boys?”
“We just kept going and going like the energizer bunny,” he said with a big grin on his face.
Unfortunately, The Pirates wouldn’t come out as victorious in the series. After dropping Game 4, 4-0, Portland put on a spectacular show, winning the next two games (3-2 and 5-3) to force Game 7 back at the Giant Center. That’s were the Pirates good luck ran out as Eric Fehr, scored at 9:07 of OT, giving the Bears the series four games-to-three, but if it wasn’t for Shane O’Brien’s heroics in Game 3, the series against the Bears might have just faded into the record books as just another series.
10.) Ebright saves hockey in Portland
9.) Pirates look within to eliminate Bruins
8.) Pirates’ Brochu wows the crowd in Binghamton
7.) Pirates set a franchise record for the quickest two goals in a period
6.) Pirates put up a dozen on the Bruins
5.) Boback rolls a seven in Albany