HARTFORD, Conn. – The Portland Pirates played beat the clock on the power play Saturday night and came away with one of their most stirring victories of the season.
Left wing Derek Whitmore took a pass from behind the net by Corey Tropp about 35 feet in the slot and beat Connecticut Whale goalie Chad Johnson high to the glove side with 7.5 seconds left to give the Pirates a 3-2 victory before 10,872 at the XL Center.
“I came off the bench and tried to find the seam,” Whitmore said after scoring his 19th goal. “(Defenseman) Nick Crawford was working the puck down low. Tropp made a good play to the slot.
“I knew there wasn’t much time, and I tried to shoot it past (Chad Kolarik) coming out at me and was able to find the back of the net.”
Johnson’s head dropped after allowing a goal set up by Dale Weise’s ill-advised interference penalty with 1:38 left. It earned Weise a closed-door meeting with Coach Ken Gernander after the game.
“A lot of guys played really well, but it doesn’t matter in the end because of a lack of discipline,” Gernander said. “It was a great game, but it’s a huge disappointment for it to end like that.”
Pirates Coach Kevin Dineen was delighted to pull out a win in Portland’s eighth game in 11 days, especially after losing two more players, defenseman T.J. Brennan and right wing Maxime Legault, to undisclosed injuries.
“All the games against (Hartford) are extremely tight,” Dineen said. “There’s a heck of a lot of talent on the ice with good goaltending at both ends in a game with a real, real physical tone to it. We were fortunate to go 2 for 3 on the power play, which is a huge night for us. We talked before the game that we had to have some power-play production in order to have some long-range success. I don’t think there was much designed play. There was a lot of effort more than anything else.”
Especially on the Pirates’ first power-play goal 59 seconds into the third period when Luke Adam poked the puck behind the net to Tropp, who found Matt Ellis alone 15 feet in front for a quick finish for his ninth goal.
The goal seemed to invigorate the Pirates, and Johnson had to be sharp to stop Ellis’ backhander at 6:14. The Whale then tied it on their third power play as Brodie Dupont got inside Crawford and deflected Kris Newbury’s centering pass from the right corner past David Leggio with 7:56 left.
But Whitmore’s late heroics enabled the Pirates (29-14-4-1) to win for the fifth time in six games and remain one point behind Atlantic Division-leading Manchester, which beat Bridgeport, 3-2.
Leggio had 36 saves for his second straight win over the Whale, the other being a 21-save shutout at home on Jan. 14.
The Whale outshot the Pirates 10-1 in the opening 14:20 but actually fell behind 1-0 when NHL veteran Mark Parrish outworked several players for the puck in the right corner and passed into the slot to a wide-open Crawford, who beat Johnson to the glove side with a shot that went in off the post.
Evgeny Grachev nearly tied it 50 seconds later, but his deflection went off the post. But the Whale continued to press and got even when Jason Williams made a lead pass to Kelsey Tessier, who outmaneuvered defenseman Dennis Persson and feathered ahead a pass that All-Star right wing Jeremy Williams buried into the top corner at 5:25 for his 22nd goal and 40th point, both team highs.