The Portland Pirates proved to be the best road team in the American Hockey League during the regular season.
Now the Pirates desperately need their own brand of road rage as the Eastern Conference final moves to Hershey for games today and Sunday.
As a result of a 2-1 overtime win on Thursday, the Bears lead the series 2-0.
“We’re trying to take it one game at a time,” said Hershey forward Graham Mink. “We’re trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Winning two (in Portland) is great, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win two at home. We have to play Game 3 like it’s our last game, because they’re going to be playing pretty desperate hockey.”
Portland set an AHL record with 27 road wins, but the Pirates lost both games in Hershey during the regular season.
“You can sit there and spin a lot of numbers and talk about different situations, but that’s just the nature of the beast,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen. “We know what we have to do. We’ve been professionals about it all year, and I don’t see us doing anything different.”
Portland is 3-2 on the road in the playoffs, losing once in Hartford and Providence. Hershey, meanwhile, is just the second team in AHL history to have won 10 straight playoff games.
“The way the playoff format is, if they come into our building and win two, they could still win it at home,” said Hershey coach Bruce Boudreau. “It’s still one game at a time. This team has had times where they’ve won 10 in a row. They can turn it on.
“They had the best road record in the American Hockey League. It’s not like they’re coming into our building with any fear.”
As encouraging as the road record might be for the Pirates, Portland’s lack of success against Hershey goaltender Frederic Cassivi is equally discouraging. The Pirates have managed just one goal in two games, despite producing 55 shots.
“Freddy made some unbelievable saves when it was 1-0 and had them shaking their heads,” said Boudreau of Thursday’s win. “That’s what you have when you have great goaltending.”
Portland had strong opening periods in the first two games and took the early lead Thursday.
Despite an abundance of chances, the Pirates couldn’t beat Cassivi. Portland also has gone just 1-for-17 on the power play.
“We didn’t take the body enough in Game 1,” said Pirates forward Geoff Peters. “(Thursday) we tried to hit everything we could. We tried to take it to the “D” men. They’ve got big defenders, guys that are 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7. The only way you’re going to get past them is to use our speed, get the puck deep and bang bodies. That’s how we’re going to create our offense.”
Portland goaltenders Jani Hurme and Nathan Marsters have been solid, but not to the level of Cassivi.
“I don’t see a lot of the offense being created on the rush,” said Peters. “I see a lot of it on the power play. I see a lot of it being done behind the goal, banging bodies and creating offense by taking it to the net. That’s how we’re going to beat this team.”