Goalie Maxime Ouellett stops a Manitoba breakaway and jump starts Portland’s comeback.

PORTLAND — It very well could have been game, set and series.

With a Manitoba Moose bearing down on a breakaway, a 2-0 lead seemed inevitable, likely securing the end to the Portland Pirates’ season.

But Pirate goaltender Maxime Ouellet kicked aside that breakaway and kick-started the Pirates’ comeback hopes.

“That was the turning point in the game,” said Pirate forward Colin Forbes. “That was huge. We would have been down 2-0. That’s a tough deficit to come back from. That was a humungous save.”

Ouellet preserved a 1-0 deficit with a sparkling stop late in the first period. Minutes later, Portland scored two goals in just over two minutes time, leading to a 4-2 victory in front of 2,525 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“Goalies never do score goals, but they do generate momentum,” said Forbes. “Max did that for us. We fed off that big save.”

It was Portland’s first playoff home win since 1998, ending a streak of six straight playoff losses at home. Portland hosts the Moose again Sunday at 6:05 in the best-of-three series finale.

“I thought we had more urgency tonight than we did (Thursday),” said Pirates coach Tim Army, whose team lost 4-1 in the series opener. “They pushed harder than we did (Thursday). I thought we did a lot of the structural thing well (Thursday), but in the key moments, they pushed a little harder. Tonight, we pushed a little harder. We talked about it (Friday). In order to be a good team, you have to win all those battles and you’ve got to be ready to compete in every situation and push yourself.”

With a 1-0 lead, Herbert Vasiljevs stole the puck and skated in alone on Ouellet with under six minutes to go in the first period. He made a sprawling pad save with his right leg. A 2-0 early lead coupled with solid defense might have been just the start the Moose needed to put Portland away, but Ouellet’s stop gave the Pirates new life.

“Everything happened pretty fast,” said Ouellet, playing his first pro playoff game. “I really had to stretch out on that play. I was able to get a piece of it. We came down on the other side and got a huge goal. I made the save but on the other side, if we don’t score it’s still 1-0. So the guys did a really good job taking advantage of that.”

Moments later, rookie Kevin Spiewak wristed a shot from the top of the circles to tie it with 5:41 left in the first. Then with 3:32 remaining, Glen Metropolit capped off a neutral zone steal and three-on-one with a wrister from the left wing.

“I thought the two biggest saves of the series was (Manitoba’s Tyler) Moss on (Peter) Ferraro (Thursday) when it was 2-1 and Max on the breakaway tonight with it 1-0,” said Army. “When Max stopped the breakaway, we came right back and scored. We could be looking at being down 2-0 and in :30 we tie it 1-1. He made a critical save on that play.”

The opening period had a much greater physical tone compared to Thursday’s free-wheeling back-and-forth action. Though Portland played hard, the aggressiveness came back to bite the Pirates 5:16 into the game. After already having to kill one minor, Portland was shorthanded again when Garrett Stroshein drew a roughing minor for a hit after the whistle. Manitoba turned that into a 1-0 lead. Pat Kavanagh centered the puck and Vasiljevs tipped it in the air and put it by Ouellet.

Down 2-1 in the second, the Moose put on plenty of pressure early on. Manitoba had a pair of power plays but came up empty on both. Portland padded its lead on its own man-advantage with 6:38 left. Forbes fired a shot from the left circle. Moss kicked it aside but it went right to Andreas Salomonsson on the right side for a quick return into an open net.

“After (the 2-1 lead) we felt pretty confident,” said Ouellet. “We just kept getting the job done and we got a huge power-play goal in the second period.”

Manitoba got one back with 3:40 left in the game. Justin Kurtz fired a shot from the point that snuck through a crowd and by Ouellet.

Forbes had an empty-netter with 1:05 left to seal it.

PIRATES NOTES: Forward Graham Mink (wrist) was scratched for the second straight game. Portland is now 7-5 in elimination games. The crowd of 2,525 was the fourth lowest playoff crowd in Pirates history. With 10th-seeded Springfield’s win over Hartford Friday, the Falcons advance to play top-ranked Hamilton in the next round. That means Sunday’s winner will meet second-ranked Providence.


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