Portland, ME – It was exactly what the doctor ordered for Curtis McElhinney.
McElhinney stopped 35 shots including four-of-five shooters in the shootout to earn his first victory with the Portland Pirates on home ice, defeating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 3-2, in front of 5,254 at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Friday night.
“He was great,” said Pirates coach Ray Edwards. “I thought he was outstanding tonight. He was a big reason why we won. (Wilkes-Barre) is a good hockey team over there. We can learn a lot from them.”The Penguins suffered their first loss on the road, snapping their undefeated road record (8-0-0-1), while the Pirates extended their winning streak to a season-high three games.
McElhinney, who hit rock-bottom in his last start after getting the hook less than nine minutes into the game, giving up a pair of quick goals to Adirondack, has struggled this season with only one win in his last eight starts.
“Ever since the St. John’s trip it just seems that it hasn’t been there whether it’s me or the team. We just haven’t seemed to be on the same page,” said McElhinney. “The good thing was (Justin) Pogge and (Marc) Cheverie have come in and done a great job. I’m glad I got an opportunity to get back into the net and I just really wanted to make the most of it.”
The game was not only a critical test for the Pirates, but for McElhinney as he attempts to get his game on track.
“I’ve been second-guessing a lot of things during the last month so the last few days it’s about getting back to basics and putting trust back into our defense,” said McElhinney.
“(Wilkes-Barre) pushed us at times and we bent, but didn’t break,” said Edwards. “I think we learned a lot about what good teams look like and how they play, but I think McElhinney made some great saves to help us over the hump.”
McElhinney was tested early and often as the Pirates were barraged with shots in the first period, being outshot by the Penguins, 14-3, but held their composure and a 1-0 lead in the opening 20 minutes.Colin Long intercepted the puck at center ice, feeding it to Jordan Szwarz, who rushed into the zone, sending a cross-ice pass to Max Goncharov for his first goal of the season with a one-time blast in the slot with 4:29 to play in the first period.
At 9:11 in the second period, the Pirates got the unluckiest of bounces, which could have sent the in the wrong direction as Wilkes-Barre tied the game at 1-1.
Pirates’ defenseman Michael Stone tried to clear the puck out from the front of his crease, but instead it hit former Boston College forward, and Massachusetts native, Brian Gibbons, and deflected into the open net.
From outhouse to penthouse, Stone rebounded less than six minutes later when he converted on a cross-ice pass from Andy Miele, beating Penguins goalie through the backdoor for a power-play goal at the 15:14 mark of the second period.
“(Stone) really responds well to adversity,” said Edwards. “He always bounces back after a bad shift or bad game. I really liked how he responded tonight.”
Ben Street again tied the game for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when he snapped a shot from the left circle that beat McElhinney on the shortside at 6:22 of the third period.
After a scoreless overtime, Ryan Duncan and Colin McDonald scored to tie the shootout at the goal apiece.
Brett MacLean, the second to final shooter, snuck a shot by Munroe to give the Pirates a 2-1 edge with Jason Williams needing to score.
Williams tried to get a shot off on the forehand, but McElhinney caught a piece of the puck to seal the victory.
Portland and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton each finished 1-for-6 on the power play.
NOTES: The Pirates loaned forward Spencer Bennett to the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL. Bennett appeared in four games with Portland, scoring one goal. The White Rock, British Columbia native was signed to AHL contract by the Pirates NHL parent club, the Phoenix Coyotes, back in September… Matt Watkins returned to the lineup after a three-game absence with an upper-body injury. Ethan Werek did not play with an undisclosed injury. He took part in morning practice, wearing a full cage. Justin Pogge has begun to skate, but no timetable on his return… Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney was in attendance on Friday along with several other members of the Coyotes scouting staff including Director of Pro Scouting Frank Effinger.