PORTLAND — The slate had been wiped clean. The Portland Pirates were starting anew.

The Pirates didn’t look any different than the team that struggled to win when it mattered most as the regular season wound down last week, however, squandering an early lead and being smothered by Manitoba’s defense as the Moose beat Portland 4-1 in front of an all-time low playoff crowd of 1,596 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

After losing the opener in the best-of-three American Hockey League playoff series, the Pirates must win tonight at 7 p.m. and again Sunday to advance in the AHL playoffs. Portland has won back-to-back games just nine times all season and once in the last month.

“Obviously, we’ve got to score some goals when we get our chances,” said Pirates forward Glen Metropolit.”(Manitoba goaltender) Tyler (Moss) made some nice saves at the end of the game, and that was the difference.”

After a back-and-forth opening period, Manitoba assumed the driver’s seat late in the second on a Ryan Ready goal that snuck by Pirates goaltender Rastislav Stana. From there, the Moose rode their defensive play and a sound outing from Moss, who had 29 saves.

“I thought we played our best hockey for 10 minutes in the second period,” said Pirates coach Tim Army. “We didn’t capitalize, and the big goal was that second one. Whoever got the second one would be able to settle in and keep things to the outside.”

Though the Pirates managed only three shots through the first 10 minutes of the final period, Portland had some opportunities. The Pirates had two power plays but mustered only one shot on each. The first man-advantage was shortened when Portland was caught with six men on the ice.

Portland was without forward Graham Mink (wrist) and lost Colin Forbes for the final period after a hit in the opening stanza. The status of both will be a gametime decision Friday.

“They have some good defensemen,” said Metropolit. “They’ve got some experience. We had some shots. They were boxing us out pretty good. (In) playoff hockey, it’s not the pretty goals that win the game. It’s get in front of the goal and whack and hack.”

Portland’s best chances came late in the period. With 7:10 left, Martin Kariya sent a pass in front for Metropolit but the shot was turned aside by Moss. Moments later, Moss kicked out a Chris Ferraro shot. The rebound came right out to Peter Ferraro between the circles, but Moss got over and made a sprawling stop with 5:50 left.

“As the period got going we got better pressure,” said Army. “He made a great stop on Peter Ferraro on the rebound. We had a real good sequence there with (Andreas) Salomonsson and the Ferraros. He made a couple of good stops.”

Manitoba ended the suspense with 2:17 left when Pat Kavanaugh capped a rush with a wrister from the right wing. He added an empty-netter in the closing seconds.

“We were patient,” said Manitoba coach Stan Smyl. “You don’t want to sit back. We weren’t over-aggressive, but they weren’t barrelling at us shift after shift.”

The teams traded goals in a fast-paced, relatively whistle-free period. Portland struck first on the power play. After getting one shot on a brief two-man advantage, Portland cashed in on the second minor with 7:40 left in the period. Metropolit slipped a pass across the front of the net to Salomonsson at the left post.

Manitoba had a prime chance to tie late on a power play of its own. Justin Morrison was alone in front. Stana stopped his high schot and that denied his backhand on the rebound. Moments later, just after the penalty expired, Jimmy Roy was left unguarded in front. Justin Kurtz fed him the puck in the slot. He put it up over a sprawled Stana with 3:58 left in the period.

“We just had a breakdown,” said Army. “We turned the puck over. We had a breakdown in coverage around the net, and it was 1-1.”

The tie almost lasted through the second period. Ready made it 2-1 with a shot from the left circle that quickly hit the net and came back out with :43 left in the period.

“I was screened,” said Stana. “It was right off the face-off. I didn’t see it. I just went down, and it beat me on my glove side.”

Typically, Forbes might have taken the face-off at the moment. Kavanaugh had struggled against Forbes in the face-off circle, but winning that draw helped set the tone for the Moose in the final period.

“You hear it a lot,” said Smyl. “People say if you get a goal in the last minute, it’s big. That really gave us some confidence.”

PIRATES NOTES: Kariya, the former UMaine standout, has signed a tryout contract with the Pirates and played his first pro game Thursday night against his brother Steve’s former team. Manitoba was playing without Brandon Reid, its top scorer in the regular season. Reid (18 goals and 36 assists) was called up by Vancouver. The previous low attendance for a playoff game in Portland was 1,975 in 2001.

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