Pirates push Hartford to brink

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PORTLAND – After producing 41 shots and scoring just two goals in their last game, the Portland Pirates needed more offense Thursday.

The solution to that was simple – more Zenon Konopka.

The Pirates’ forward had two goals and an assist to lift the Pirates to a 4-1 victory over Hartford in Game 5 of the Atlantic Division Final in front of 3,667 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

The Pirates lead the series 3-2 and can clinch their best-of-seven playoff series on Sunday.

“For six periods, we worked pretty hard,” said Konopka. “It was a matter of getting some bounces. Fortunately, all that hard work translated into some goals. There’s no quit in this team. Sometimes you get frustrated, especially when the goaltender’s playing well. We kept on shooting and kept going to the net. Fortunately for us, the puck went in.”

Konopka has scored at least a point in 23 straight games dating back to March 18. The restricted free agent after this season is among the top playoff scorers, and has nine goals and 10 assists in 11 playoff games. He scored the first goal of the night, and then scored on the power play to make it 3-1.

He set up a breakaway goal in the third to seal it.

“I don’t really worry about offense,” said Konopka, an undrafted player who many assumed was too small to play at the AHL level. “I just work as hard as I can. Usually, everything takes care of itself. All I can do is work as hard as I can for 60 minutes. If pucks go in that’s great.”

The Pirates struck for two power play goals in the second period to break open a 1-1 game.

Portland went 0-for-9 on the power play in Sunday’s 4-2 loss, and had just two power play goals in the previous three games in the series.

“That’s nice,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen. “Any chance that we get on the special teams, either way, they have a big effect. For us, getting those power play goals was a huge thing.”

Portland also blanked Hartford on five power plays. Dineen had talked with the Anaheim coaching staff and borrowed some strategy. The Mighty Ducks have been stellar on the penalty kill in their series with Colorado.

“I’ve never been against plagiarizing and stealing somebody else’s ideas,” said Dineen. “I think things we were trying to stress just got reinforced. We followed up with some video and got the guys believing.”

Ryan Shannon broke the tie at 9:33. Shane O’Brien slid a pass from the point to Shannon at the top of the left circle. He cut toward the net and fired a shot that deflected off defender Daniel Girardi.

Then with 1:43 left in the period, Geoff Peters stole the puck when Hartford’s penalty killers got congested in the slot. That left three Pirates in alone on Chris Holt. Peters dished off to Konopka at the right post.

“It was a real turning point in the game, said Konopka. “Instead of them clearing it out, we score. We end up getting some momentum from it.”

Hartford had Alexandre Giroux in alone in the final minute of the second, but Jani Hurme stopped that breakaway bid, finishing with 27 saves.

The Pirates added a Peters breakaway goal early in the third to seal it. Konopka set up Peters with the pass.

“I can’t say enough about him,” said Dineen of Konopka. “He is the absolute leader and hard worker. You look at him and say Where does that skill come from?’, but he’s a guy that gets it done consistently night after night. That’s what he’s going to do to work his way into the NHL.”

Despite being short-handed twice in the first 11 minutes, Portland outshot Hartford 11-5 and took a 1-0 lead. Pierre Parenteau fed Konopka from behind the net for a one-timer in front at 8:14.

Hartford tied the game with 4:49 left in the period on a similar goal. Dwight Helminen sent a pass from behind the net to Nigel Dawes for the equalizer.

“I thought we played well in the first and carried that over in the second,” said Dineen. “Then finished it off in the third. It was a pretty well rounded game for us. Any time we face a little adversity or lose a game, we always seem to bounce back.”

PIRATES NOTES: Greg Moore has not been involved in a fight since joining the Wolf Pack late in the regular season, but the Lisbon native and former University of Maine captain was itching for one Thursday. Late in the second, after jawing with Konopka on a face-off. Moore dropped his gloves and went after Konopka, but the Pirate skated away.

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