Portland, ME – In the battle for first place in the Atlantic Division, the Portland Pirates will be welcoming some much needed time off.
The Pirates, who are playing a season-high 15 games in the month of March, including this current stretch of six games in nine nights, simply ran out of gas, falling to the Manchester Monarchs, 4-2, in front of 5,487 at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Sunday afternoon.
The tiredness began to show Saturday night for the Pirates before squeaking out a 5-4 victory over the Providence Bruins.
“We’re going to take some time off in the next little bit just to refresh ourselves,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen. We looked tired (tonight). We kind of stole one last night too. When we’ve been pushing (the play) as hard as we have (lately) you expect that energy all the time.”
“We got out played by (Manchester) tonight. That’s disappointing. We put together a pretty good resume here over the course of the season that we base our game on hard work. I think there was some effort out there tonight. I just think (Manchester) worked harder.”
Portland, who had had their six-game winning streak snapped, have four games in hand as they fell back into second place, one point behind the Monarchs, in the Atlantic Division standings.
“(Manchester’s) got four lines that they can throw at you and be effective,” said Dineen. “We have to learn how to respond to that.”
Manchester broke a 2-2 tie to take the lead in the third period on a goal by Jordan Nolan, who deflected a shot from the left point by defenseman Jake Muzzin that beat Pirates goaltender David Leggio.
Bud Holloway added an empty-netter with 42 seconds left, ending any hope of a Pirates comeback.
Leggio, who ended the night with 34 saves, suffered his first loss since Jan. 2, a 3-2 loss in Worcester.
The last time Leggio lost a game at the Civic Center was back on Nov. 6 against Providence.
“It’s case where we’ve got a great team coming out of our locker room and they’ve got a very good team over there,” said Pirates captain Matt Ellis, who returned to the lineup after missing the last 13 games with a groin injury.
“It’s tight battles. Besides the empty net goal this is a one goal hockey game. I just finished laying to Dave Leggio that this is playoff atmosphere. Everything is close, everything is tight and those types of game you’ve got to limit your mistakes limit your turnovers and dictate the play a little bit more.”
The Pirates began the game by building a 2-0 lead in the first period.
At 5:41, Pirates rookie Luke Adam recorded his 25th goal of the season with a shot from the slot, after picking off a Monarchs defender, while on the backcheck.
Portland made 2-0 roughly four minutes later as defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani drilled a one-timer past Monarchs netminder Jeff Zatkoff.
A night after Gragnani broke the franchise record for assists in a season by a defenseman, he broke the franchise record for points by a defenseman set by former Pirate Brian Salcido during the 2007-’08 season.
The Monarchs, who were playing their fourth game in five nights, begin to find their skating legs after getting on the board with seven minutes to play in the period.
Just as a penalty by Pirates defenseman Tim Conboy expired, Muzzin, who assisted on the game winning goal, ripped a slap shot from the top of the right circle, catching a piece of Leggio and trickling into the net.
“At this time of the year the attention to detail is what’s going to win you games and one mistake can cost you,” said Ellis.
In the second period, Manchester knotted the game at 2-2 with the only goal of the period when John Zeiler, parked in the slot area, took a feed from David Meckler, jamming it past Leggio at the 11:26 mark of the period.
Prior to the game, both sides met at center ice and again near the Monarchs net where pushing and shoving ensured. The nastiness carried throughout the game.
“The game had a buzz to it that,” said Dineen. “We just have to focus it in the right way. They’ve got a couple guys out there that for two or three shifts are out there for one reason.”
NOTES: The Buffalo Sabres were dealt a huge loss on Sunday as the legendary forward Rick Martin passed away. Martin made up 1/3 of the famed line for the Buffalo Sabres known as the French Connection alongside Rene Robert and Gilbert Perreault. The 59-year-old was pronounced dead at a Buffalo hospital after suffering a heart attack according to the Buffalo News, while driving in the town of Clarence, a subrub of Buffalo.