Portland, ME – Binghamton Senators head coach Kurt Kleinendorst wasn’t sure how goalie Robin Lehner would responded after a four-goal shellacking in Game 5 of the Atlantic Division Finals.
He liked what he saw in Game 6.
Lehner made 36 saves for his first career playoff shutout as the Senators blanked the Portland Pirates, 3-0, before 2,713 at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Friday night to win the best-of-seven Calder Cup series, 4-2.
“I thought Robin was really sharp tonight,” Kleinendorst said. “Obviously, for a 19-year old, I wasn’t sure how he was going to play. I felt I needed to come back with him for his long-term development. He’s played really well (in the series) and had maybe one rough period.”
Binghamton will play the winner of the Charlotte vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton series, which stands at 3-2 after Wilkes-Barre avoided elimination with a 1-0 win.
It will be the first time since 2002 a pair of teams from the same division (Chicago vs. Houston) will battle for the conference championship.
The Senators would get all the offense they needed only 25 seconds into the first period.
After the Pirates won the opening faceoff and dumping the puck into their offensive zone, the Senators recovered to carry the play up the ice. Jared Cowen fed a pass to Jim O’Brien, who floated a wrister on net that deflected off Pirates goalie Jhonas Enroth, giving Binghamton the momentum and the 1-0 lead.
“It’s huge,” Kleinendorst said. “It’s not even the same game playing with a lead. That was a big goal for sure. We just had to katy bar the door. We played really good defensively. Our battle was good and we didn’t give much of anything after that.”
Lehner and the Senators shut the Pirates down from that point, blocking shots and not allowing the Pirates many scoring opportunities.
“I give my guys a ton of credit for the battle they brought tonight,” said Kleinendorst. “We worked our butts off. Robin (Lehner) played well, but at the end of the day we blocked an awful lot of shots. I don’t think it was anything on Portland. I felt they played pretty darn hard. We just played a little bit harder.”
In the second period, the Pirates had a five-on-three for an extended period and by the end one could sense that might have been the changing point of the game.
Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen surely felt so.
“I thought we continued to
get our shots on net. We were fully confident in our offense that we could score a goal. It didn’t matter if they scored in the first minute or the last minute of the period. There have been lots of times we’ve come back. You’d like to start with a different tenor to the game. For me it was the special teams and the five-on-three that was the game changer.”
The power play the entire series was an issue for the Pirates, and more than likely proved to be the deciding factor. Portland entered the game 2-for-15 and finished the night 0-for-5 while Binghamton went 7-for-20 in the series with the man advantage.
Case in point was roughly two minutes after the second penalty of Portland’s two man advantage expired, Binghamton gave themselves some breathing room midway into the second period when the Senators scored on their own power play as Zack Smith got his own rebound, chipping a shot over Enroth for a 2-0 lead.
“They won the special teams game,” said Dineen. “That’s the reason they won the hockey game. I’ve seen it so many times where you don’t score and within a few minutes of the power play ending they go out get their own power play and score on it. That was a big swing point in the hockey game.”
“Special teams were the reason we failed in Game 5 and the reason (Portland) had success,” said Kleinendorst. “Tonight, we were 1-for-3. They were 0-for-5. They had an extended 5-on-3 and it’s amazing how often those come back to bite you in the butt. We played desperate and got it done.”
Binghamton added an empty net goal with 21 seconds to put the game out of reach and gave Kleinendorst a chance to catch his breath.
“Until that third goal went in I never really had an opportunity to sit back and catch my breath,” said Kleinendorst.
NOTES: This was the first time the Pirates have been eliminated in a series on home ice since 2003 when they lost to the Manitoba Moose, 2-1, in a best-of-three qualifying series. The Pirates dealt with their fair share of injuries in the playoffs. Matt Ellis went down at the end of the second period with an injury and didn’t return. TJ Brennan (right leg), Zack Kassian (leg), Brian Roloff (right hand), Dennis McCauley (shoulder), Shawn Szydlowski (shoulder) and Drew Schiestel (knee) were all injured scratches. Jacob Lagace and Corey Fienhage were healthy scratches… Sabres GM Darcy Regier was in attendance at the game.