PORTLAND – Manchester beat the Portland Pirates at their own game Sunday afternoon to move back into first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division.

The Monarchs outworked the Pirates down the stretch and skated to a 4-2 win before 5,487 people at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

With the win, Manchester snapped Portland’s six-game winning streak and moved one point ahead of the Pirates atop the division.

“This time of year (when) playing good hockey teams, there’s a real fine line between winning and losing,” said Portland captain Matt Ellis, who returned to the lineup after a 13-game absence because of a groin injury.

“Tonight, I think (Manchester) did a little bit more and deserved to win. But we’ve had a good run. As a fan and a spectator like everyone else, I’ve been really proud of the way the team has performed.”

It was the sixth game in nine nights for Portland, which has played four fewer games than the Monarchs. But Portland Coach Kevin Dineen refused to blame the loss solely on fatigue.

“When we’ve been pushing as hard as we have, you expect that energy all the time,” he said. “We got outplayed by (Manchester) tonight, and that’s disappointing. We put together a pretty good resume here over the course of the season that is based on hard work. I think there was some effort out there tonight. I just think they worked harder.”

The Monarchs took the lead for the first time when it mattered the most.

With less than six minutes to go, Jordan Nolan snapped a 2-2 tie by jamming the puck past goalie David Leggio, who stopped 34 shots.

Bud Holloway added an empty-net goal during the final minute to account for Manchester’s final margin of victory.

The Pirates held a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period.

After Luke Adam scored first, Portland’s Marc-Andre Gragnani made it 2-0 when he took Adam’s pass from inside the slot and scored his 11th goal on a blast from the bottom of the left circle.

With less than eight minutes left, Manchester defenseman Jake Muzzin scored his third goal on a shot from the top of the right circle three seconds after Portland had killed off a penalty.

As the defense collapsed around the Portland net, David Meckler tied the score 11 minutes into the second period by scoring his 15th goal from point-blank range after John Zeiler passed the puck to him from behind the net.

“We were all tired,” Dineen said. “(The defense) got caught out, but part of the reason they got caught out was because the shift before we don’t get the puck deep. All of the sudden we turned it over, and we’ve got to ice it, and I got tired defensemen. You’ve got to get the puck in and keep it simple when we’re a tired bunch.”

Despite the loss, Gragnani continued to rewrite the Pirates’ record book.

Saturday night, he scored a goal and recorded his 43rd assist of the season in a 5-4 win against Providence to break the team record for assists in a season by a defenseman he set in 2008-09.

Sunday’s goal brought Gragnani’s season total to 53 points, eclipsing a team record set in the 2007-08 by Brian Salcido for most points in the season by a defenseman.

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]