WORCESTER, Mass. – Even if the Portland Pirates win the Calder Cup, Coach Kevin Dineen arguably won’t feel any better about his team than he did after Wednesday night’s 3-1 loss to the Worcester Sharks.
Here’s why: The Pirates are in the middle of a brutal, eight-games-in-10-days stretch that would test the mettle of any team, especially against an opponent the caliber of Worcester.
”Basically what I told my guys after the game was that I was extremely proud under these hard circumstances that they’ve been put in, given how hard they played,” Dineen said.
Portland dropped out of a first-place tie in the Atlantic Division with the Sharks, who are 15-3-2-0 in their last 20 games at home.
The loss also snapped Portland’s streak of earning points in 13 straight games, and halted goalie Jonas Enroth’s personal 11-game winning streak.
”We played well the last two periods (when Portland outshot Worcester, 28-15), which says something about our team for (playing) five out of six games under extremely tough circumstances,” Dineen said.
”We played a team that’s been waiting for four days. They got us at the end of one of these, but I’m really proud of the way my guys played down the end.”
As proud as Dineen was of his players, he was equally bitter about a schedule that puts his team in a position to possibly incur injuries.
”It’s dangerous,” Dineen said. ”This is a league that’s run by the owners. It’s not showing a great amount of concern for the players that you play a schedule like this. Unfortunately it puts players in really hard positions because there are a lot of big hearts out there that are trying hard, and everybody wants to play every game.
”But this isn’t easy. You travel 700 or 800 miles and you come home and all of a sudden you get back on the bus. Playing five (games) in six (days) is crazy, let alone eight in 10. It should become a rule that they shouldn’t allow schedules like this because it does get dangerous and you’ve got a big concern for your players.”
Portland broke a scoreless tie at 2:07 of the second period when Marc-Andre Gragnani picked the upper left corner during a power play after a cross-ice pass from Tyler Ennis. But that was the only time a Pirate beat rookie Alex Stalock, who made 31 saves while winning his AHL-best 32nd game.
Worcester tied it, also during a power play, when Ryan Vesce sent a slap shot past a screened Enroth at 7:23.
Vesce added a second goal at 12:24 and Dan DaSilva applied the clincher at 5:57 of the third when he beat Enroth top shelf from the bottom of the left circle.
”Those were nice goals,” Dineen said. ”(Vesce) comes back after not having played for a couple of months and has a strong game. He basically was a difference maker.”