Portland, ME – Shorthanded, the Portland Pirates were in a prime position to earn their second victory in as many nights, and move one step closer to claiming the Atlantic Division title.
Then came the third period.
Bridgeport scored twice in the final 10 minutes, completing a third period collapse by the Pirates to give the Sound Tigers a 2-1 win before a weeknight friends and family crowd of 2,572 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
The loss was Portland’s fourth in their last five games, and their fifth loss in their last six games at the Civic Center where they once sported the league’s best home win percentage.
During this five game homestand the Pirates have been able to strike first each time, but only have three points out of a possible 10 to show for it.
“It’s something that’s been creeping into our game the last few times at home, taking leads into the third period and giving them up,” said Pirates’ forward Derek Whitmore. “We can’t be doing that, especially at this time of year, going into the playoffs.”
“We had some really good moments into the game. We had some positives, but the big picture we once again we gave up a lead in the third period in our building and it’s unacceptable.”
The Pirates opened the scoring less than four minutes into the first period as a collision by Bridgeport’s Tony Romano and Mark Wotton sprung Paul Byron on a breakaway where he slid the puck behind Sound Tigers’ goalie Mikko Koskinen for the 1-0 lead.
For the second straight game, the Pirates skated with only five defensemen and were without their captain Matt Ellis after he was recalled by the Sabres on Tuesday, joining Marc-Andre Gragnani, Mark Mancari and Jhonas Enroth, who were already with the team.
John Scrymgeour, who arrived after the both teams were on the ice for warm-ups, was signed to a PTO from Reading of the ECHL as a replacement.
Even then, Portland began to show signs fatigue in their game in the second period as it led to a pair of prime scoring opportunities for Bridgeport with Romano, and Joe Pereira ringing shots off the post on back-to-back shifts.
“What happens in the second period we
get a little a sloppy in our game,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen. “We’d like to stay positive and always try to keep approaching things in a positive manner. But, I would like to think there were some good lessons in there for us. I’m taxing my guys. It’s not fair to them I’m playing with five defensemen. We tried to address it unsuccessfully.”
Midway into the third period, the Sound Tigers were finally able to solve Pirates’ goaltender David Leggio, snapping his shutout streak at 122:45, when Brian Day found the back of the net, finishing off a two-on-one.
It was Day’s second AHL goal, both of them against the Pirates, in less than a week.
Only 1:23 later, a turnover behind the net to Robin Figren to David Ullstrom in front, gave the Bridgeport a 2-1 lead.
Dineen pointed to the some bad decision-making by his defense, which led to the goals.
“They think they are going to lead the rush,” he said. “We’ve got a one goal lead. The risk-reward ratio was skewed.”
“It’s bad decision making,” Dineen said. “We have to learn. We have to get better and get on the same page. That kind of stuff is really going to light you up against a loose team that’s looking for opportunities like that.”
Dineen indicated that he’s going to be looking for some relief over the next two days, but still pointed that it’s the players here that need to be accountable for the on-ice success.
“I’d love to get some decent help back there, but the guys that are here have to learn some lessons,” he said. “We’re too close to the playoffs to let sloppy things get into our game.”
“I’ve got to get about five more bodies in here. Try to give us some energy in the lineup.”
Leggio made 19 saves in the loss, while Koskinen stopped 33 of 34 shots for his ninth win of the season.
There was only one power play in the game as the Pirates went 0-for-1 with the man advantage.
NOTES: Former Pirates netminder Jhonas Enroth made 23 saves for his first NHL shutout against the NY Rangers… Marc-Andre Gragnani, recalled on Monday, recorded an assist in the lone goal of the game as the Sabres went on for the 1-0 victory.