PORTLAND — Fans of the Portland Pirates are used to waiting.
Unlike the rest of the fans in the American Hockey League, Pirates fans didn’t have the luxury of seeing their team play in their designated home town.
A year removed from seeing their team relocated to Lewiston due to lease issues, hockey returned to Cross Insurance Arena in Portland for the first time since the 2012-13 season. That’s why Pirates fans didn’t mind waiting a little longer than anticipated to celebrate their team’s first goal of the season.
Blanked by the visiting Providence Bruins through the first 40 minutes, the Pirates netted three goals in the third period in a 3-2 victory Saturday in front of 5,601 fans.
“Talk about fun,” Portland goaltender Mike McKenna said. “It was so much fun to be out there and see how well we were received coming back. I don’t know what the tally was in the crowd, but it looked big to us and we could hear them. We knew they were here.”
In a matter of seconds, the Pirates (1-0) went from being inches away from taking a 1-0 lead to finding themselves trailing by a goal with 9:01 remaining in the second period. Portland was unable to knock in a loose puck sitting in the crease and the Bruins (1-1) made them pay when Alexander Fallstrom beat McKenna with a sharp-angled shot from inside the right faceoff circle. Fallstrom carried the puck down the side boards along the right side of the ice before wristing a shot under the stickside shoulder of McKenna to score the first goal at Cross Insurance Arena this season.
“It was a first-game-of-the-year start,” Portland coach Ray Edwards said. “I think when you wait around for 20 minutes and go through all the pregame stuff, it took us some time to get going.”
Rob Flick had the primary assist on the play, with Steve Eminger tallying the secondary assist.
Lucas Lessio finally gave the Portland fans something to cheer about when he knotted the game 1-1 just 1:15 into the third period while on the power play. Lessio banked a shot off the inside pad of Bruins goaltender Jeremy Smith on his glove side on a successful wrap-around attempt. Patrick McNeill was credited with the assist.
Not a minute later, the Pirates took their first lead of the season when Darian Dziurzynski beat Smith stickside from the left faceoff circle.
“You could see us come alive there,” McKenna said. “We hadn’t played a poor game by any stretch up to that I don’t think. You could see us getting better and better and more confident.”
Portland made Providence pay for undisciplined play. After the Bruins were called for back-to-back penalties a minute apart, Pirates skater Brendan Shinnimin went five-hole past Smith with a wrist shot from the slot for the 5-on-3 power-play goal with 12:59 remaining.
“(Dziurzynski) had a really good screen and I just tried to throw it on net and hit him, but it just went right through and right in,” Shinnimin said. “It’s a good goal to get. Being able to contribute on the power play is huge.”
The Bruins made it interesting late when David Pastmak lit the lamp with 3:16 remaining, but they couldn’t net the equalizer with Smith pulled for an extra skater in the final minute.
McKenna finished with 25 saves to earn his first victory of the season, while Smith made 24 in a losing effort.
“I didn’t like the first goal, but I thought he made some big saves in the third,” Edwards said. “He made two or three point blankers in the third he was able to swallow up and that’s what you need. You need timely saves.”