Portland, ME – The Portland Pirates had a chance for a first-place tie in the Atlantic Division with a win against the Providence Bruins.
Mikko Lehtonen scored a hat trick in regulation and added a goal in the shootout as the Bruins defeated the Pirates, 6-5, in front of 6,514 at the Cumberland County on Saturday night.
The win kept the Bruins in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division, three points in front of the Pirates, but the extra point combined with Hartford’s 4-1 loss to Manitoba allowed the Pirates to take over second place.
Twice the Pirates came back from two-goal deficits, (4-2, and 5-3) including Matt Macdonald’s first goal of the season with 1:10 left in the third period to tie the game, 5-5.
MacDonald fired a slapshot from the left point through a screen, beating Bruins’ goalie Kevin Nastiuk.
After 20 minutes of play, the Bruins held a 2-1 lead on goals by Brad Marchand and Matt Lashoff.
The Pirates opened the scoring just 2:39 into the first period on a goal by Mark Mancari, a power play goal for his team-leading 20th of the season.
Mancari, swooping in from the left circle, picked up the rebound from Mathieu Darche and fired a backhand by Bruins netminder Kevin Nastiuk to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
Portland went 3-for-7 on the power play.
At 4:29, the Bruins tied the game at 1-1 as Portland turned the puck over behind their net to Brad Marchand, at the top of the crease, who batted the puck by Pirates’ goalie Jhonas Enroth.
With Marek Zagrapan and Brad Marchand off for roughing, the Bruins took a 2-1 lead a little over a minute later as Matt Lashoff’s shot from the top of the left face off circle was deflected past Enroth at 8:35 of the first period.
Just 29 seconds into the second period, the Pirates tied the game at 2-2 as Marc-Andre Gragnani fired a bullet from the high slot, beating Nastiuk as the puck rang off the goal post.
At 14:23, with Kenny MacAuley in the penalty box for hooking, the Bruins regained the lead when Mikko Lehtonen snapped a quick shot over the shoulder of Enroth to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead.
Portland has numerous chances with two minutes to play in the period, but Nastiuk held the fort, making several brilliant saves.
Lehtonen scored his second goal of the game under some controversy, scoring with less than a second left in the period.
The clock showed no time left on the clock as the green light came on, but official Mark Lemelin was quick to signal the goal as the Bruins took a 4-2 lead into the locker room after two periods.
In the third period, Mathieu Darche pulled the Pirates to within one goal at 4:25 of the period as he took a second shot attempt, beating Nastiuk inside the right post.
“We’re on a bit of rollercoaster emotionally,” said Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen. “We play some really good streaks of hockey followed by stretches of mediocrity. We’re trying to hold ourselves to higher level that we can be a better than we’ve shown lately.”
With seven minutes left in the game, Lehtonen made it 5-3 when he was credited for a shot that deflected off Pirates’ defensemen Mike Weber’s face into the net.
Weber left the game and didn’t return, but only showed signs of a small laceration above right cheek.
At 15:21, Tim Kennedy scored his ninth goal of the season when he snapped a wrist shot over the shoulder of Nastiuk, again pulling the Pirates to within one goal at 5-4.
After Macdonald scored in the waning seconds of the game, Portland had several quality chances in overtime.
However, Portland shootout woes continued as they went 1-for-5 with Mark Mancari scoring the lone goal as Tuukka Rask took over the goaltending duties from Nastiuk.
In 65 minutes of play, Nastiuk made 34 saves on 39 shots for the win as Enroth made 29 saves for the loss.
NOTES: This is the Pirates last home game for nearly two weeks as they play the next seven games on the road. Portland won’t return to the Cumberland County Civic Center until Feb 28. when they take on the Wolf Pack. It could potentially be Wolf Pack forward Sean Avery’s debut in Portland.