PORTLAND – It’s taken nearly three-quarters of the season, but the Portland Pirates moved into a first- place tie in the Atlantic Division on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t easy.
Bouyed by Jhonas Enroth’s 35 saves, the Pirates eked out a 2-1 victory against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before 3,416 fans at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
The victory tied Portland with the Worcester Sharks for first place in the eight-team division.
”It’s been a long road,” Portland Coach Kevin Dineen said. ”It’s been a long road to scratch and claw our way and try to get these points. But we’re finding a way to get it done.”
The Pirates, who will meet the Sharks at Worcester, Mass., tonight, had to scratch and claw for their eighth consecutive win at home, snapping the Penguins’ six-game winning streak.
”(They’re) a hard team to play against,” Dineen said. ”That was a pretty satisfying win. It’s not going into the museum up the street but we’ll certainly take it.”
Portland, which had an 11-game win streak snapped Sunday with a 3-2 shootout loss at Rochester, has points in 13 straight games.
”We’re doing what we need to do to win,” right wing Mark Mancari said. ”We’re finding a way to do it and we’re battling hard. Sometimes the bounces go your way, and that’s the way it’s going right now.”
The Pirates, who are playing eight games in 10 nights beginning last Friday night at Albany, looked sluggish at the start.
”It’s always hard to get up for that first game at home after you come off a road trip,” veteran defenseman Joe DiPenta said. ”It was a challenge we looked at today, and I think the guys stepped up.”
Center Matt Caruana, on his second stint with Portland after spending much of the season in the ECHL with the Gwinnett (Ga.) Gladiators, opened the scoring 5:33 into the second period. He put a backhander into the right side of the net for his third goal with the Pirates after slipping behind the defense and getting a pass from Tyler Ennis. It was the team-high 37th assist of the season for Ennis.
Less than two minutes into the third period, Mancari made it 2-0 when he scored his team-high 22nd goal of the season three seconds into the Pirates’ third power play.
With more than 13 minutes to play, Dustin Jeffrey spoiled Enroth’s bid for his fifth shutout when he flipped his 18th goal into the left side of the net on a breakaway.
NOTES: Nathan Gerbe, the 2009 AHL rookie of the year, returned to the Portland lineup after missing 13 games with a groin injury, Portland right wing Kyle Wanwig, who was injured Saturday night at Rochester, sat out his second straight game. The Pirates killed off six penalties, including a 59-second segment in the third period when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had a two-man advantage.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: [email protected]