LEWISTON — Their smiles were wider; their breathing, deeper, and filled with relief.
Portland forward Tobias Rieder collected a blocked shot off the skates of a Worcester defender and fired the puck into an empty net with 29 seconds to play in regulation to finish off a 6-4 Pirates win over the Sharks, ending a four-game losing streak during which they’d blown three third-period leads.
“It’s been nerve-wracking in the third period lately,” Pirates forward Brendan Shinnimin said. “But when we got up two in the third there, everyone kind of let their breath out.”
With another three-goal lead in their back pocket, the Pirates again started to lose their hold in the third period. They watched the lead shrink to one, and the murmurs from the crowd of 1,731 were audible in every corner of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
Not again, not this time.
“For a second there, it looked like it was going to be one of those nights,” Shinnimin said, “but we stayed positive on the bench and stayed together and we knew we weren’t going to let this one slip away.”
“It wasn’t the way you’d write it up, but at this point, just to find a way to get the win was important just from a confidence standpoint,” Portland coach Ray Edwards said.
James Livingston and Rob Davison were the Worcester skaters who made the Pirates squirm in the third, Livingston with his goal at 1:04, and Davison with another at 4:29.
“The first shift of the third period wasn’t good enough, but we found a way to stop the bleeding,” Edwards said.
“The first half of that period we were kind of scrambling,” Shinnimin said. “After that we calmed down. Once we did that, we started getting pucks back in their end.”
Defensively, the Pirates were stout in the last half of the third, not allowing a single Worcester shot to reach goalkeeper Mark Visentin in the final seven minutes of play.
“We went down down to three lines, and we had three lines committed to doing things the right way,” Edwards said. “They defended really well. I thought the defensive pairings of Klesla and Rundblad, and Gormley and Murphy were two real good pairings for us.”
The win also allowed the Pirates to climb out of the Eastern Conference cellar. With 49 points, Portland is now tied with Syracuse in 12th position, one back of 11th-place Worcester, which has now lost eight of 11.
One thing that hasn’t suffered during the Pirates’ recent swoon was the power play, which again played a significant role in Thursday’s contest. Portland went 2-for-5 with an extra skater.
The Pirates weathered an early Worcester power play and struck first for the fifth consecutive game.
Brett Hextall put the home team on top 1-0 at 5:13 of the first period when he took a drop pass from Jordan Martinook and let a slap-shot rip from the top of the right circle. The puck thumped into the padding behind Worcester goalie Troy Grosenick after sliding through his legs.
Worcester buried the puck past Visentin to even things at 1-1 a short while later on Travis Oleksuk’s 11th of the season.
The Pirates retook the lead at 11:26 when Shinnimin gathered a rebound on the backhand after a Brandon Yip tip of a Rostislav Klesla shot from the left point.
Portland killed off three more penalties in quick succession — including a full two minutes of 5-on-3 — to finish the period.
“Visser was outstanding and gave us a chance to get through the period,” Edwards said.Despite allowing 20 shots and shooting only seven times, they carried a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
With a four-minute man advantage of its own, Portland ran its lead to 3-1 just past the midway point of the second. Tobias Rieder uncorked a wrister through traffic from the left circle on a feed from Yip.
The Sharks climbed back within a goal at 3-2 on a short-handed tally at 15:18 of the second, but Andy Miele came right back 11 seconds later and gave Portland its two-goal edge back.
“When they scored the shortie, and we came back right away and got one,” Edwards said, “that was a big part of the game.”
Shinnimin added another at 17:14 of the second to run the Pirates’ lead to three.