PORTLAND – The Portland Pirates capped their busiest stretch of the season with a solid performance Sunday afternoon.
Derek Whitmore scored two goals as the Pirates, playing their eighth game in 10 days, skated to a 4-2 win against the Albany River Rats before a crowd of 4,723 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
Portland went 5-2-1 during the 10-day stretch and now leads the AHL’s Atlantic Division, one point ahead of Worcester.
“If you told us we would take 11 out of 16 points in this eight-and-10, we might have laughed at you,” Whitmore said. “It was great we were able to battle back, especially with the two losses in the middle. We did a great job sticking together and staying with it.”
Sunday’s victory might have been costly. Tyler Ennis, a 165-pound forward who has 19 goals and a team-high 40 assists to lead AHL rookies in scoring, was injured when he was cross-checked by Jay Harrison, a 215-pound defenseman, in the final minute of play.
“It was a cross-check to the face,” Portland Coach Kevin Dineen said. “You’d like to think the league wants to protect your average player, let alone one of its top rookies. It was a really unnecessary play. It’s too bad a well-played game has to end that way.”
Players jostled at center ice for several minutes after the game. Two from each squad were assessed fighting majors and game misconducts.
After a scoreless first period, the Pirates turned it up a notch in the second, scoring twice in the first 5:01.
“In the second period, we smelled blood and we kept getting in on them with our fore check,” Whitmore said. “(Albany is) a team that struggles a little bit down low with one-on-one battles, and our team is really good cycling through.”
Kyle Rank flipped in his ninth goal of the season at 2:55, finishing off a two-on-one break with Matt Caruana.
Brad Larsen then made it 2-0, jamming in a rebound for his ninth goal after former UMaine goalie Mike Morrison stopped Mark Mancari’s close-in shot.
Then, with 1:16 left in the period, Whitmore tipped defense-man Mike Kostka’s blast from the left point inside the near post during a power play to give the Pirates a three-goal lead.
The River Rats closed the gap to 3-2 in the third on goals by Jerome Samson, who leads Albany with 27 goals, and Chris Terry.
But Whitmore finished off the River Rats with 4:38 remaining, tipping in the rebound of a shot by Denis Persson.
J.P. Lamoureux started for just the fourth time in two months and made 28 saves for the Pirates.
“It’s not easy being a player on the bench and go four or five minutes without seeing the ice and all of the sudden getting tapped (to play),” Whitmore said. “I can’t imagine going four, five or six games in between starts and (playing) the way he did tonight. It is a credit to his mental toughness and to the type of kid he is.”
NOTES: Because of copyright issues, television coverage of the Olympic gold-medal game was not shown inside the arena. Fans were able to watch it on big-screen televisions in the lobby and in the Penalty Box Grill. After missing all but one of the previous 17 games, Nathan Gerbe returned to the Portland lineup. Persson, a rookie defenseman from Sweden, skated at left wing because of injuries to forwards Cody McCormick and Jeff Cowan.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: [email protected]