PORTLAND – The Portland Pirates hope the Hershey Bears have done a lot of thinking and soul searching in the last week.
After having Portland on the brink of elimination last Tuesday with a 2-0 lead entering the third period, Hershey let it slip away and dropped another Wednesday as the Pirates evened the series. Now the Bears have had nearly a week to dwell on the sudden turn in momentum in the Eastern Conference final.
“You don’t want to take a break after a losing streak because those are tough to come back from, especially in pro hockey,” said Pirates rookie Bobby Ryan. “The advantage is in our favor right now. We’re carrying the momentum and hopefully, we can sustain it.”
As if the sudden resurgence hadn’t prompted enough doubt in the Bears’ mind entering tonight’s Game 7 in Hershey, Portland’s lineup is getting bolstered by forwards Dustin Penner, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
Penner had 39 goals and 45 assists in 57 games with Portland while Perry had 19 goals and 16 assists in 19 games. Getzlaf had eight goals and 25 assists in 17 games. Penner started the playoffs with the Pirates before being recalled to Anaheim. Perry and Getzlaf were both included on the Pirates playoff roster. All three were returned after the Mighty Ducks were eliminated Saturday.
“It’s momentum Pirates right now,” said Pirates coach Kevin Dineen. “It’s amazing how things swing back and forth. We’ve got to go win one on the road. We had home ice advantage. We got our four games at home, but we didn’t take care of our business at home. Now we have to get on the road and do that. What we did (Wednesday), we have to follow through on Tuesday.”
After struggling to score against Hershey netminder Frederic Cassivi, Portland struck for eight goals in the last two games. The Pirates have confidence offensively and see the puck bouncing their way. With some rest, Hershey coach Bruce Boudreau doesn’t expect Cassivi to be so accommodating tonight.
“I think Freddy ran out of gas,” said Boudreau. “With six games in eight nights, it’s something we were worried about. They got four goals (Wednesday) that a week ago, Freddy would never have let in, and he won’t let them in again.”
Also a significant turning point in the series was the play of Portland’s Jani Hurme and the defense in front of him. Hurme had stellar efforts back-to-back while the Pirates special teams wasn’t the same group that allowed six power-play goals in the first three games.
“Goals aside, the things that win playoff games are the blocked shots by Aaron Rome and J. B. Bitner and the key saves by Jani Hurme,” said forward Tim Brent. “Someone’s going to score for us. We’ve scored all year, but those are the things that really are the turning points.”
Portland’s 27 road wins this season set a new AHL mark. The Pirates won in overtime In Hershey in Game 2 but lost 4-0 in Game 3. The series was in Hershey’s control then, but Portland hopes it can maintain its grip and advance to the Calder Cup finals for the first time since 1996.
“20 minutes away and nobody stopped believing,” said Ryan. “That’s what you want. That’s playoff hockey. Those guys are competitive, and we knew they weren’t going to give us anything. With 20 minutes left, we came out and took it from them and kept that last 20 minutes rolling into (Wednesday). We obviously came out on top and look to come out on top in Game 7 as well.”
Should Portland advance, it would open the Calder Cup finals in Milwaukee Friday and Saturday. The series would return to Portland for three games starting Monday.