Portland, ME – Colin Murphy notched his first career hat trick as the Portland Pirates jumped into third place in the Atlantic Division with a 5-2 win over the Manchester Monarchs on Saturday night before crowd a of 6,505 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Murphy, who missed close to two months of the season – Dec to Feb – with a concussion was left wondering at times when he’d return to the ice, and just how effective he could be.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Murphy. “It took me a while to get back and get in shape.”
“The one bad thing about head injuries is you can’t work out, you can’t even ride the bike. “It’s just like starting over after taking almost two months off. I’ve had a lot of things going through my mind when you’re not playing; not knowing my future (is difficult).”
In the second period, Murphy scored his first of the night at 2:17 when he skated around Monarchs’ defenseman Alec Martinez and lifted a backhand past Manchester goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
Pirates’ forward Nathan Gerbe was sent to the penalty box for hooking midway into the period and Murphy capitalized on a breakdown by the Monarchs as he raced down the left side, cutting to the slot and ripping a shot by Bernier at 7:31 of the second period.
“(Mathieu) Darche pulled both defensemen and left me a lane to take the shot,” he said. “It was a really good play by Darche.”Murphy completed the natural hat trick in the third period when he buried the puck by Bernier at 4:26 of the period, giving the Pirates a 3-0 lead.
It’s taken him a while, but Murphy has found chemistry with linemates, Marek Zagrapan and Mark Mancari. In his last seven games, Murphy has five goals, six assists for 11 points and a plus-5 rating.
“He was one guy at the trade deadline that I had a number of calls about,” said Pirates’ head coach Kevin Dineen. “I think everybody is searching for character and people who see him play know what he brings to the table.”
“As well as (Murphy) is playing, I give (Marek) Zagrapan credit, as well as Zagrapan is playing, I give (Mark) Mancari credit. They’ve found some real chemistry there and they are working well off each other.”
It appeared the Pirates put the game out of the reach in the third period when Marc-Andre Gragnani’s blast beat Bernier at 6:42 of the second period.
Bernier, who was pulled against the Pirates back on Mar 18 in a 5-2 loss, was yanked again in favor of Daniel Taylor.
Going into the game, the Pirates have had the Monarchs number at the Civic Center, going 3-1-0, but Dineen wasn’t looking at past stats as indication of how the night went.
“(Manchester) is a good team that we’re playing,” said Dineen. “They were down in the dumps for the first three months of the year when we played them a lot and maybe took advantage of them there.”
“What they’ve done into February has been impressive. The job is not close to being done, and we weren’t happy with the third period.”
He was almost correct.
At 9:53, Marc-Andre Cliché snapped Jhonas Enroth’s shutout bid (24sv/26sh) as he stuffed the puck through the left post, cutting into Portland’s lead, 4-1.
Less than four minutes later, Justin Azevedo pulled the Monarchs to within two goals, 4-2, as he beat Enroth with a quick shot at 13:38 of the third period.
At 17:26, Nathan Gerbe sealed the win as he scored the Pirates’ second power play goal of the night, getting behind the Monarchs defense, lifting a shot past Taylor.
“I thought we had to play as hard as we did to win,” Dineen said.
NOTES: As the second period was coming to a close, Pirates’ forward Tim Kennedy dropped the gloves for his first professional fight against Justin Azevedo.
“(Azevedo) kind of went low on my knees and I didn’t want to take a dumb penalty so I went up to him and told him if he went for my knees again we’re going to have a problem and he asked if I wanted to go so I said sure,” said Kennedy with a grin.
Dennis Persson played his first game with the Portland Pirates, going scoreless with a -1 rating and two penalty minutes. Dineen was happy with the 20-year olds effort in his first AHL game.
“He did a good job out there,” he said. “I thought he looked calm for a player out there in a smaller rink and different kind of environment.”
“It was a good start for him.”
Earlier in the day, the Pirates released Zach Tarkir from his PTO, sending him back to South Carolina of the ECHL. In 32 games with the Pirates, he scored three goals, four assists for seven points. He also registered a plus/minus rating of -2.