Portland, ME – The Portland Pirates can relax now knowing they’ve clinched the final spot in the Calder Cup playoffs, but it wasn’t without a few tense moments on Friday night.
Down by a pair of goals in the second period, the Pirates came storming back and held onto the win, 6-5, over the Providence Bruins in front of a sell-out crowd (7,167) in the final regulation game at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
With the win, the Pirates jumped over the Worcester Sharks into third-place by one point.
They can determine who they will play in the first round with a win against the Manchester Monarchs on Saturday. The Monarchs were eliminated with the Pirates win despite defeating the Sharks, 3-1.
“Tomorrow night (against Manchester) is an extremely important game for us,” said Pirates’ coach Kevin Dineen.
The Pirates opened the scoring at 4:19 on the first period when Mathieu Darche scored the first of his two goals on the night as he picked the puck out of a scramble and chipped it over Bruins’ goalie Kevin Nastiuk for the 1-0 lead.
Jeremy Reich notched his first of the night less than two minutes later when he finished off a cross-ice pass from Brad Marchand at 6:06 of the period, tying the game 1-1.
Nathan Gerbe and Wacey Rabbit scored as both team traded goals in the first period before the Bruins gained their first lead of the night when Reich, again finished off a cross-ice pass, beating Pirates’ goalie Jhonas Enroth in the final minute of the first period.
Enroth looked shaky after one period of play, stopping on three of six shots in the period.
“We had to go out there and earn it,” said Pirates’ coach Kevin Dineen. There was some sloppy play out there and our players recognized that.”
Providence made it a two goal lead in the second period when Brad Marchand, slipped behind the defense, tapping a quick shot past Enroth to give the Bruins what looked like a comfortable, 4-2, lead at the 5:49 mark of the second period.
However, the Pirates came roaring back in a span just over seven minutes, scoring three goals to take a 5-4 lead into the locker room after 40 minutes of play.
Mark Mancari got things started at 11:48 of the period with Portland’s second power play goal of the game as he ripped a blast by Nastiuk.
Less than two minutes later, Portland tied the game, 4-4, when Colin Murphy was the beneficiary of a deflection of his skate.
Marc-Andre Gragnani took a shot from the left point, hitting Murphy’s skate as he was being cross-checked from behind by Matt Stephenson, redirecting the shot into the net at 13:07 of the second period.
“We buried one with a few seconds on the power play and I think our guys responded well from there,” said Dineen. “We got real hungry and fed off that goal so I think that was a big turning point for us.”
The Pirates regained the lead, 5-4, with 18 seconds left in the period after Felix Schutz dished the puck to Colton Fretter, breaking in alone as he deked to the left, beating Nastiuk with a forehand shot.
Mathieu Darche added an insurance tally in the third period before Bruins’ forward Martin St. Pierre pulled the Bruins back within a goal.
“The whole trick is to make the playoffs and it’s taken us a long time to get there,” said Dineen. “We’ve responded well over the last three weeks.”
NOTES: The Portland Pirates will be getting some much need help on the blueline within the next few days as defenseman Chris Butler is expected to be sent down to Portland for the Pirates playoff run.
“I think that is exactly what we’ll do,” said Sabres’ head coach Lindy Ruff. “I’m not confirming that, but it is the plan, yeah.”
Butler was recalled, along with Matt Ellis, back on Dec. 18 after playing 27 games with the Pirates, Butler scored two goals, 10 assists for 12 points with a -3 rating.
In 46 games with the Buffalo Sabres, he scored one goal and four assists for five points and was plus-9 rating, spending most of his time on a line with Sabres captain Craig Rivet.