Thanks to gutsy performance by the Portland Pirates, and a loss by the Manchester Monarchs, the Pirates now sit atop of the AHL’s Atlantic Division standings.
Actually, the Pirates can begin to smell a playoff berth after a 5-3 win over the Providence Bruins before 6,747 at the Dunkin Donuts Center on Sunday afternoon.
The Pirates, with five games still in hand, moved into sole possession of first place with 93 points and can clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday, their fourth game in five days, with a win in regulation against Worcester, who helped the Pirates today with a 3-2 victory over the Monarchs.
The Bruins, who have gone 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, applied early pressure to the Pirates, outshooting them, 9-0, in the first two minutes of the game and taking a 1-0 lead on a goal by Jamie Arniel as he found the rebound in front and stuffed it by Pirates’ goalie Jeff Jakaitis.
Portland came back to score the next three goals to take a 3-1 lead, starting with Marc-Andre Gragnani power play tally midway into the opening period.
With Yuri Alexandrov in the box for holding, Gragnani took a feed from TJ Brennan, ripping a slap shot through a screen of bodies to beat Bruins starting goalkeeper Michael Hutchinson at 9:58 of the period.
Jacob Lagace made it 2-1 with the Pirates second power play goal of the game less than five minutes into the start of the second period.
Mark Voakes, continuing to make a case to stay with the Pirates this season, dished off to Lagace at the top of the left circle for a shot over the glove of Hutchinson.
For Voakes, it was his seventh point in eight games and he wasn’t done.
At 13:47, with the Pirates and Bruins skating four-on-four, Voakes fired a quick wrist shot that knuckled past Hutchinson to put the Pirates in control, 3-1.
Or so they thought.
The Bruins bounced back with a power play goal of their own by Arniel followed by former Pirate Trent Whitfield blasting a one-timer off a turnover only 52 seconds apart to knot the game at 3-3.
Portland responded to regain the lead with less than a second left on the clock – 0.4 seconds to be exact – as Gragnani threw the puck on net, rookie Luke Adam picking up the rebound and finding Mark Parrish with an open net for his 14th of the season.
Adam’s assist on the play extended his point-streak to 10 games.
The Bruins switched goaltenders to start the third period with Anton Khudobin replacing Hutchinson, but it wouldn’t matter much as Alex Biega put the game out of reach for Providence with a goal just a minute in.
Forward Derek Whitmore took the initial shot on net, but Khudobin couldn’t control the rebound, leaving it for Biega to shovel a shot into the net, giving the Pirates a 5-3 lead.
Gragnani, who has 13 points (3g, 10a) against the Bruins this season, also assisted on the play, and finished with a goal and three assists to further extend his points lead among defensemen in the AHL with 59 points (12g, 47a) in 60 games. Gragnani is only a goal behind former Pirate Mike Kostka and current Pirates blueliner TJ Brennan for the league lead in goals by a defenseman.
Goaltender Jeff Jakaitis got the start in place of David Leggio, stopping 27 of 30 shots for the win. The last time Jakaitis was in net was back on Mar. 12 against the Bruins where he faced 49 shots in a 5-4 win for the Pirates. In five AHL starts with Worcester and Portland, all of Jakaitis’ wins have come against the Bruins (3-2-0).
Hutchinson allowed four goals on 22 shots, while Khudobin made seven saves in relief.
NOTES: Matt Ellis and Tim Conboy were healthy scratches as Dennis McCauley and Nick Tuzzolino drew back into the lineup after missing the last two starts… Also missing were Travis Turnbull, who continues to rehab his shoulder injury and Drew Schiestel, out for the season with a knee injury.