PORTLAND – The Portland Pirates found new life on Tuesday and were living large on Wednesday.
For the second straight night, the Pirates avoided elimination and extended the Eastern Conference Final with a 5-3 victory in front of 3,665 at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Portland evened the series at 3-3 and forced Game 7 next week.
“We had a bit of a swagger all year that we seemed to have lost early in this series just because the bounces weren’t going our way,” said Pirates forward Tim Brent. “We were confident coming into the game. There were tons of signs in the stands that said We believe’ and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Pirates third win of the series came in similar fashion as the previous two – from behind.
Down 1-0, Portland got goals from Maxim Kondratiev and rookie Bobby Ryan in the second period. Brent, who scored his first goal since December Tuesday, added two more Wednesday to bolster the lead in the third. Portland then held off a frantic comeback by Hershey in the final minute and added a Ryan Shannon goal to clinch it.
“It’s all turning into a blur,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen. “The schedule, six games in eight nights, I’m exhausted, and I can’t even imagine how my playeres are feeling right now. They still have that positive energy going right now, but physically, they’re pretty worn out. It’s going to be a nice six days off to get ready for the battle.”
The series moves back to Hershey for Game 7 next Tuesday. With Anaheim, the Pirates parent club on the brink of elimination themselves, Portland could very well get some additional bodies should the Mighty Ducks bow out.
“We’re extremely proud of our guys,” said Dineen. “There’s nothing more you can say. “
Portland did another stellar job on the Hershey power play for much of the game. The Bears had six power play goals in the first three games but had just one in the last two. Hershey was blanked until netting two in the final minutes to rally from a 4-1 deficit. Portland also got an outstanding game from goaltender Jani Hurme with 34 saves.
“Jani had a little something to prove to me and the fans and his teammates,” said Dineen. “That he has the stamina to get through two tough and intense games. The answer was tonight.”
Hurme was sharp in the opening period as Hershey outshot Portland 9-7. The offenses came to life in a span of 51 seconds in the second period. Hershey struck first at 2:15. Kris Beech scored on a wrap-around try. Portland came right back at 3:06 to tie it. Kondratiev’s slapper from the left point beat Frederic Cassivi through traffic.
“That was huge,” said Brent. “It was unbelievable. I don’t know how to explain it but we’ve been doing it all year. We really react to adversity in great fashion.”
The Pirates then took the lead with 10:05 left. Ryan skated from behind the net. Instead of throwing a centering pass out front, he whirled around and wristed a shot from the left circle for his first professional goal.
“I came around the net and saw my shot,” said Ryan. “Most of the guys that are familiar with (Cassivi) said he looks out to the slot a little early. So I tried to catch him off guard. That’s exactly what happened. It went right through his five-hole. I’m sure he’d like to have that one back.”
Both goaltenders made critical stops late in the period. Cassivi stopped a wrister from Pierre Parenteau off a Brent feed. Hurme stopped Graham Mink on a tip in front and then stuffed a Boyd Kane and knocked down a pair of rebound attempts amidst a scramble in front.
Brent scored his first of the night at 3:15. A Curtis Glencross shot was stopped by Cassivi but Brent put in the rebound. Then with 7:55 left, Brent backhanded another rebound for the 4-1 lead.
Hershey made it interesting with 4:34 left. Beech scored on a five-on-three power play after Kondratiev was ruled to have an illegal stick. Mink added a tip on a power play with 51 seconds left. Despite Hershey pressure in the final seconds, Shannon finished it off with an empty netter.
“It was nice to have a little breathing room but in typical Portland Pirates fashion, we had to make it a little tighter there at the end of the game,” said Dineen.
PIRATES NOTES: Portland defenseman Ladislav Smid skated off with trainer Angel Soutuyo with 8:50 left in the first period and did not return. The Pirates have faced elimination in Game 6 five times and won four of them. Twice, in 1995 against Providence and 1996 against Rochester, the Pirates ultimately lost in Game 7.