The Mariners will reach the midpoint of their ECHL hockey season Tuesday night, and the second half will have to be better than the first in order to qualify for the playoffs.

After squandering early leads Friday and Saturday night, the Mariners came up empty Sunday afternoon, losing 2-0 to the red-hot Newfoundland Growlers before a matinee crowd of 2,555 at Cross Insurance Arena.

“That’s kind of the way it goes sometimes,” said team captain Zach Tolkinen. “When you’re not scoring, things are looking pretty bleak. Then all of a sudden they start coming in bunches. So that’s what we’re looking for.”

Newfoundland is on a nine-game winning streak. The Mariners have lost five in a row, the last four at home, their longest skid in Portland.

Tolkinen was among the five defensemen suited up for Sunday’s game, as Coach Riley Armstrong opted to use fewer than six for the first time all season. Brandon Crawley played on the blue line in the first two weekend games, but was scratched Sunday.

“If you aren’t going to play the right way, then you’re simply not going to play,” Armstrong said. “That’s pretty much what it comes down to. … For having five guys back there in the third game of a three-in-three, I thought they did really well.”

Indeed, Maine held the defending Kelly Cup champions to 20 shots, including only three in the third period, while racking up 34, each stopped by Growlers goaltender Parker Gahagen. One of those was a short-handed breakaway midway through the second period by Morgan Adams-Moisan not long after Newfoundland had taken a 2-0 lead.

“Those are the turning points of the game,” Armstrong said. “Big Mo, if he scores on that breakaway, it’s a 2-1 game and the tables turn a little bit. … You have to capitalize on your opportunities.”

Maine failed to convert on an ensuing power play, one of three such opportunities. The Mariners had the only power play of a scoreless first period when forward Mikael Robidoux, signed last week from a junior league where he led his team in penalty minutes, got into a disagreement with veteran Growlers defenseman James Melindy. The latter dropped his gloves and raised his fists, but Robidoux skated away, leaving Melindy to be sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“He’s a young kid and he’s trying to establish himself,” said Melindy, a former Portland Pirate and Newfoundland’s most penalized player. “It’s a high-emotion game and stuff happens. There was a hit and a poke and then a little bit of talking, then not much after that.”

Except, of course, that Melindy flapped his arms in the manner of a chicken, riling up the home fans. He understands his role and embraces that of the villain when he travels outside of his native Newfoundland.

“It’s like that everywhere I go,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s funny. It makes you a little more dialed in to hopefully score a goal or make a good play so you can get the last laugh.”

On Sunday, Newfoundland’s goals came from Brady Ferguson and Marcus Power. Ferguson’s came on a power play early in the second when he found the far upper corner of the net. Two minutes later, he sent Power on a breakaway that Mariners goalie Connor LaCouvee was unable to thwart.

After hosting Worcester Tuesday night, the Mariners finish off their stretch of eight games in 10 days by visiting Adirondack Wednesday night and Brampton (Ontario) for another weekend triple-header.

“You never want to walk away from a loss happy,” Tolkinen said, “but I think you can walk away and look at yourself in the mirror, because that was a pretty good effort against the top team in our division.”


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