Four different players each had multiple points on the night as the Portland Pirates broke a three game losing streak by beating the Providence Bruins, 4-2, in front of 5,069 at the Cumberland County Civic.
The Pirates returned to the Civic Center for the first time since Nov. 30 after spending more than three weeks on road, a stretch in which they went 2-4-0-1 over the last seven games.
“It was sure nice getting back to the Civic Center,” said Pirates’ head coach Kevin Dineen. “We’ve missed being away from home and it was a solid effort. I think the fans walk out know that we played hard and the score fortunately showed that.”
It’s also been a battle against attrition for the Pirates as they’ve lost seven players from their opening day roster to either call-ups or injuries, which as a result has left Dineen scrambling to find bodies to insert into the lineup.
“We’re looking forward to Monday,” said Dineen, “some time away and time to heal up a little bit and try to get some reinforcements in as well.”
Dineen signed ECHL player’s Kyle Rank (Cincinnati) and Zach Tarkir (South Carolina) to a PTO as a result of losing Chris Butler, Matt Ellis and Nathan Gerbe on recall to Buffalo and Aaron Slattengren, Jimmy Bonneau, Mike Card and Mike Funk to injury.
None of which are expected to be back or ready by the new year as Portland only dressed 17 skaters, one short of 18-man roster limit.
Providence opened the scoring with a power play goal at 8:25 of the first period when Johnny Boychuk faked a pass, shooting a wrist shot by Pirates’ goaltender Jhonas Enroth.
The Pirates tied the game, 1-1, at 17:55 on a goal from Derek Whitmore.
Marek Zagrapan raced down the near boards throwing a shot on net where Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask kicked the rebound out to Whitmore in the slot, who buried the shot by Rask.
Dylan Hunter put the Pirates out front for good when he scored his first goal of the season at 7:35 of the second period.
Mathieu Darche, in a scrum, dished the puck to Hunter, who had more than enough time to settle the puck down and fire it into an empty-net for a 2-1 lead. Along with Darche, Paul Baier was credited with an assist on the play.
“Darche made a nice play between his legs and I just wanted to make sure it was on the ice and put it in top-shelf,” said Hunter.
As the period began to wind down, the Pirates extended their lead to 3-1 as Mathieu Darche scored his 10th goal of the season on a bit of a fluke play. Hunter fired a shot on goal, but it deflected in the air toward Darche, who just got the heel of his stick on the puck, redirecting it into the net with 42 seconds left in the period.
At 5:36 of the third period, Colton Fretter kept his hot hand going his 10th of the season as he’s scored 12 points (8g, 4a) in the last 11 games.
Pirates’ defenseman Paul Baier sent a cross-ice pass through traffic to Fretter, who ripped a one-timer by Rask on the short side to give the Pirates a 4-1 lead. It was Baier’s second point of the night as he had a plus-4 rating.
The goal chased Rask (25 saves on 29 shots) out of the net, in favor of Kevin Regan, who came in and stopped all five shots he would face.
“We had some bounces early and guys were noticing (Rask giving up rebounds) that and we had some good shots from the point and just created a scramble in front,” said Hunter.
“If that is how we need to get our goals, then that’s how we’ll get them.”
The game carried a physical tone that boiled over midway into the third period as several fights broke out at 10:28 of the period. Byron Bitz and Jeremy Reich as well as Paul Baier and Colin Murphy were ejected for secondary altercation for their part in the melee and Derek Whitmore and Wacey Rabbit each received five minutes for fighting.
Once the game resumed, Providence would cut into the Pirates lead as Peter Schaefer scored only his fourth goal of the season since being assigned to the Bruins at the beginning of the season. Schaefer fired a wrist shot on net from the left hash mark that threaded its way through a pack of bodies beating Enroth at 15:11 of the third period.
Enroth faced only 20 shots from the Bruins, making 18 saves for his ninth win of the season.
NOTES: As a result of the impending storm, Worcester was arriving on Saturday night so they’d be in Portland prior to the storm, which is expected to drop upwards of a foot of snow in the Portland area. Chris Butler playing in his second NHL game is 2-for-2 on the scoresheet as he scored his second assists since being recalled from Portland on Thursday. Matt Ellis has also made a contribution, scoring his NHL goal of the season in a 5-0 win over the L.A. Kings.