Portland, ME – Mathieu Darche (2g, 1a) and Tim Kennedy (1g, 2a) scored three points each as the Portland Pirates inched closer to punching their ticket in the Calder Cup playoffs with a 6-4 win over the Springfield Falcons in front of 6,644 at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Sunday afternoon.
It was only a month ago when the Pirates were a longshot to make the playoffs, hitting a low point in the season, going 4-6-0-1 over an 11-game stretch, but since Mar. 27, Portland has turned it around going 5-1-0-1 over their last seven games.
“We had no choice,” said Mathieu Darche. “We needed this game and we’ve set ourselves up for a nice week. We’ve put ourselves in a good position to be in the playoffs.”
With three games left in the regular season, its possible Portland will be in a position to clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win in regulation on Wednesday night in Worcester as they will have 86 points and the maximum point total for the Manchester Monarchs if they win their remaining games will be 86 points.
The Pirates currently hold the tie-breaker’s against the Monarchs.
“We’re not in yet, and even once we’re in we’re not in the playoffs to make an appearance,” said Darche. “We want to be there and make a run.”
Down 1-0, the Pirates got on the board when Nathan Gerbe scored his 27th goal season at 11:32 of the first period.
Gerbe connected on a feed from Tim Kennedy – both recently named to the AHL All-Rookie team – and broke down left side for a breakaway, cutting across the crease, lifting a backhander by Falcons’ goalie Devan Dubnyk, before crashing hard into the boards.
At 16:23, Tim Kennedy made it 2-1 for the Pirates when he skated to the top of the crease and snapped a quick shot behind Dubnyk. Mathieu Darche and Nathan Gerbe were given credit for assists on the play.
With 22.6 seconds left in the opening period, the Pirates gave up the lead after Marc-Andre Gragnani gift-wrapped a poor outlet pass to Colin McDonald for a clean shot in the slot, beating Pirates’ goalie Jhonas Enroth to tie game 2-2.
Gragnani ice time was significantly cut for the rest of the game.
“His ice time is a reflection of my thoughts on his play right now,” said Dineen.
The Pirates power play lately has been on a roll and it continued on Sunday, going 1-for-2, as Mark Mancari notched his 28th goal of the season at 7:50 of the second period.
Mancari, at the point, took a cross-ice feed from Kenny MacAuley and picked the upper left corner with a hard slap shot from the top of the left face off circle.
It marked the seventh game in a row the Pirates have scored a power play goal.
Despite sitting in last-place of the Atlantic Division, the Falcons have earned points in eight of their last 13 games and continued to press against Portland as Bryan Young scored at 13:27 of the second period.
Young, who snapped a quick shot by Enroth, has scored three goals as a pro over the last three seasons, including his last two against the Pirates.
“(Springfield) was gritty and very calm, just out there to have a lot of fun, and we were intense, but we looked tight we wanted it so bad and sometimes you over work and can get a little too fired up,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen.
In the third period, the veterans stepped up their play, taking charge on the ice and the scoresheet.
With 15:00 minutes left in the period, the Pirates regained the lead, 4-3, when Colin Murphy drove to the front of the net, beating Dubnyk through the five-hole.
At 12:25, the Pirates made it a two-goal lead when Darche scored his second goal of the night, while shorthanded, as Matt Generous was in the box for a slash.
“Its part of our role (as veterans), but at this time of the year it doesn’t matter who does what as long as we get the two points,” said Darche. “We’ve had a lot of games where our rookies carried us and tonight it was our turn to make a difference.”
Springfield pulled back to within a goal at the 14:00 minute mark off a goal by Mike Gabinet, but Darche put the game out of reach with 37 seconds left in the game as he buried the empty-net goal.
Darche now leads the Pirates in goals scored on the season with 29 goals, one behind Mancari with 28 goals on the season.
NOTES: Travis Turnbull made his first AHL start with the Pirates, going scoreless with one shot on net. Turnbull played mostly on a line with Kyle Rank and Marc-Andre Gragnani and didn’t look out of place despite some early nerves.
Dineen was happy with his play on night also confirming that he wasn’t out of place moving from collage to the pro game.
“I really liked the energy. He’s got a bit of a heat-seeking missile to him. He really zones in on guys and make sure he finishes all his checks.”
Derek Whitmore was a scratch due to a hit in the back he suffered in Saturday’s game against Providence. He’s listed as day-to-day.