PORTLAND – It was the kind of victory the Portland Pirates would have loved to savor for a few days.
Instead, Portland was trying to build on Tuesday’s stunning reversal of fortune 24 hours later. Trailing 2-0 entering the final period and facing elimination, the Pirates rallied with three goals to force Wednesday’s Game 6.
“It’s hard not to enjoy this because there was so much emotion in the individuals and the way we played in the third period,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen.
Even Dineen was fired up after the victory, flashing a few fist pumps as he left the ice.
“I thought I hid those little fist pumps,” said Dineen. “I try to keep them down low. I get excited out there and I think we’re all competitors. It was a nice feeling to have someone on the run a little bit. That was the case in the third period.”
Instead of relishing the come-from-behind victory, the Pirates had to dig deep and try and force Game 7 in Hershey next week.
Dineen tried to encourage his team to enjoy Tuesday’s win while preparing for Wednesday’s showdown.
“I told them it will be a beautiful day, get out and get a walk on the beach and really enjoy this,” said Dineen. “These are the kinds of games that stick with you all summer. This is what you think about a lot during the summer.”
Though Jordan Smith wasn’t on the ice Tuesday, he played a role in the Pirates victory. The defenseman, whose career ended when he suffered a serious eye injury during the regular season, asked Dineen if he could speak to the team prior to Game 5.
“Everybody’s wearing his number,” said Dineen. “No. 32 is on everybody’s jersey. He said Can I go speak to the guys?’ He took about 90 seconds. He went in, and bang, he’s batting 1.000 right now. Jordan Smith is the emotional heartbeat of the Portland Pirates.”
On the brink
The Pirates were trying to be the sixth team in AHL history to rally after losing the first two games in a series on home ice.
Portland has never won a series after losing the first two games. In the Calder Cup final in 1996, the Pirates lost the first two games in Rochester before losing 2-1 in Game 7. Portland also lost the first two at Saint John in 1998 and were eliminated in Game 6. Worcester swept the Pirates in 2000.
Eight Pirates were members of a Cincinnati team last year that were down 3-1 to Milwaukee in the West Division semifinal before rallying to win that series.
“We are playing an extremely good hockey team with a lot of talent,” said Dineen. “They’ve got guys that are high draft picks. They’ve got good players on that team, but we’ve got heart. That’s all we’re surviving on a lot of time. We have guys with heart, and they’re getting it done.”
Portland is 7-1 all-time in Game 6 of a playoff series and are 8-7 when facing elimination.
The Pirates’ victory Tuesday night altered Hershey’s plans for a quick ending to the series. The Bears had already checked out of their hotel rooms prior to Game 5.
After Portland won and forced Wednesday’s game, Hershey had to settle in for another night in Portland.
“They were dead in the water, but we gave them life,” said Hershey coach Bruce Boudreau. “It’s unfortunate, but we did. We gave them a little bit of life.”
Back to back
The Pirates went with goaltender Jani Hurme for the second straight night. Dineen has often gone with Nathan Marsters in the second game of back-to-back outings, including three times in the playoffs. Marsters had lost both games against the Bears in this series, after winning his previous nine starts.
Hurme has played both games on consecutive days five times since his arrival in Portland, and lost the second game three times.
Hurme did beat Providence in back-to-back games in the second and third games of that series in April.
He also won consecutive games in March against Bridgeport and Providence. He’s given up 17 goals in the second game of those back-to-back games while allowing just 12 in the first game.