PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Portland Pirates accumulated enough frequent bus miles over the weekend to last a season.
But when the Pirates boarded their bus Sunday for the ride home, they packed six points after defeating the Providence Bruins, 5-3.
The victory followed wins at Binghamton on Friday and at Hershey on Saturday.
“The schedule definitely has been a bit of a hodge-podge this year,” Mark Parrish said. “We’re getting hit hard at the end of the season. But we’re doing our best with it and the way we’re pulling out wins is fantastic.
“Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going into the playoffs.”
The Pirates are now 10-2-0-0 in their last 12 games. Because Worcester beat Manchester 3-2 Sunday, Portland moved into sole possession of first place — by two points — over the Monarchs.
Portland has also played five fewer games than Manchester. But in the opinion of assistant coach Eric Weinrich, that advantage is irrelevant.
“One of my favorite coaches always said games in hand don’t mean anything unless you win them,” Weinrich said. “I think it’s natural to watch the scores but we can only control our game.
We’ve had a great run and I think one thing that’s been overlooked is we’ve played a lot of games without Mark Mancari. It’s a real credit to the guys that we’ve spread the scoring around and have played really well as a team.”
Mancari, who’s currently with the Buffalo Sabres, had 32-32-64 totals before his latest recall.
Five players scored goals against Providence while six were credited with at least one assist. Parrish scored one of Portland’s most important goals of the season — with four-tenths of a second left in the middle period of a 3-3 game — to give Portland a 4-3 lead.
Marc-Andre Gragnani walked in from the left point and made a back-door pass to Luke Adam who threw the puck on net. Michael Hutchinson blocked the shot and Parrish tapped in the rebound.
“Momentum is a big thing in this game and to be able to come back like that after they tied it 3-3 (Portland led 3-1 late in the second) was huge for us,” Parrish said. “It had to be a bit of a downer for them but for us it was a huge lift.”
Parrish’s point was underscored 61 seconds into the final period when Alex Beiga buried the rebound of a Derek Whitmore shot against Anton Khuodobin, who had replaced Hutchinson.
“Those are tough ones, psychologically,” Weinrich said. “Their coach (Rob Murray) decided to make a goalie change and sometimes that affects teams one way or another. We really didn’t change anything. We knew we had to get the puck in deep against this team which is where they’re strongest.”
After Jamie Arniel scored the first of his two goals, at 1:52 of the opening period against Jeff Jakaitis (27 saves), Portland reeled off consecutive goals by Gragnani, Jacob Legace and Mark Voakes for a 3-1 lead. But Arniel scored on a power play at 15:39 of the second and Trent Whitfield tied it at 16:31.
“The one thing the guys did was they refocused every night,” Weinrich said of the marathon road trip. “I think we did what we set out to do each night and the guys stuck with the game plan.”