PORTLAND – The Portland Pirates had a change in goal and a change in attitude Thursday night, but it didn’t produce a change in fortune.
Graham Mink crushed the Pirates hopes of evening the Eastern Conference final with a goal at 1:52 of overtime. The 2-1 victory in front of 3,511 at the Cumberland County Civic Center gives Hershey a 2-0 lead in its best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals. The series moves to Hershey for Games 3 and 4, on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s disappointing to come out with a loss when you feel like you played a game you probably could have and should have won,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen.
After an ego-bruising 5-0 loss in the first game, the Pirates played with chips on their shoulders. Portland’s more aggressive attitude had them up 1-0 in the third period, but Hershey got a tying goal from Dave Steckel and the game-winner from Mink.
“It’s a funny game sometimes,” said Pirate forward Geoff Peters. “You don’t always get what you deserve. We improved on everything we wanted to improve on from Game 1. We scored on the power play and shut them down on the PK. We just didn’t get the bounces. They’ve been getting the bounces. When we start getting the bounces, we’ll start putting the puck in the net.”
Mink’s game-winner came off a pass from Tomas Fleischmann. He won control of the puck behind the net and slipped a pass out front for Mink, cutting through the slot.
“I was in a battle with my defender on the boards,” said Mink, sporting a hard hat that gets passed around to the Bears player of the game. “I beat him off the wall. (Fleischmann) made an unbelievable pass, and I just tipped it in. It went five-hole. I was so excited. It was such a relief.”
The Pirates went with goaltender Nathan Marsters over Jani Hurme. It was Marsters’ second start in the playoffs. He beat Providence 5-2 to clinch that series in Game 6. He had a solid outing, making 27 saves.
“He’s just played well for us,” said Dineen. “He’s won nine in a row. I’ve had great experiences using him in key spots, and he’s done a great job for us.”
Though Portland got an early power-play goal from Shane O’Brien, the Pirates couldn’t add to the lead. Hershey’s Frederic Cassivi, who posted shutouts in his last two outings, kept the Pirates off the board the rest of the game. He finished with 31 saves.
“He’s playing well,” said Dineen. “We’ll have to figure him out next game.”
A lengthy and physical first period had Portland taking a 1-0 lead with its first power-play goal of the series. Zenon Konopka’s shot from the right circle was stopped by Cassivi, but O’Brien was in front to deposit the rebound. The goal snapped Hershey’s shutout streak at 1:47.58 and put the Bears behind for just the second time in the postseason.
Hershey outshot Portland 9-7 in the second and managed to kill of a five-on-three opportunity for Portland.
The Bears finally broke through, however, with 9:25 left in the third. Steckel’s wrister from the high slot snuck by Marsters to tie it.
“We knew they were going to come out hard again,” said Mink. “We knew we had to weather the storm. We got out down 1-0. We could feel the momentum turn in the second period. We just kept pushing and pushing. We finally got our breaks. Dave Steckel had an unbelievable goal and Frederic Cassivi kept us in the game. They could have been up 3-0 or 4-0.”
Notes: Hershey’s Louis Robitaille got face-to-face with Konopka before official warmups even began 45 minutes before the game. Konopka approached Robitaille as the Bear and teammate Mike Green casually shot pucks at the net while in sandals. Konopka, joined by O’Brien, also got into a heated exchange with Hershey assistant coach Bob Woods before security came in and broke up the conversation. The debate continued when warmups began. As Konopka sat on the ice stretching near center ice, facing Hershey, Robitaille sat down on the opposite side of the center line and jawed with Konopka briefly before the Pirate skated away … Defenseman Maxim Kondratiev was a scratch after being injured in Game 1 …Winger Trevor Gillies returned to the lineup after missing two months to an injury.