ALBANY, N.Y. – Needing only one point to clinch the Atlantic Division title, the Portland Pirates picked up two Saturday night. The hard way.
Using a young lineup missing several regulars injured or resting for the playoffs, Portland got 33 saves from John Muse in his pro debut, and shootout goals from Paul Byron and Derek Whitmore for a 3-2 victory against the Albany Devils.
Travis Turnbull, playing his first game since Nov. 26, and Byron on a penalty shot scored in regulation for the Pirates (47-24-6-2), who earned their 102nd point, taking a four-point lead on idle Manchester.
Both teams end the regular season today.
“There’s a lot of pride in that. It’s not a one-game thing,” Portland Coach Kevin Dineen said of the division title. “That’s a lot of months and a lot of work.
The Pirates will meet the Connecticut Whale in the first round of the playoffs, starting with games Thursday and Saturday at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Tickets will go on sale at noon today.
Albany took a 1-0 lead in the first minute. Just nine seconds into a hooking penalty on Pirates defenseman Dennis Persson, Devils center Matt Anderson swept in a long rebound on his backhand at 26 seconds.
Portland tied it off a fortunate bounce at 11:44. From outside the Albany blue line, Turnbull directed a shot at the Devils’ net that took a strange hop and surprised goalie Mike McKenna, skipping past his glove.
“The shot hits our skate and goes right over to the open guy, and (Muse) gets scored on in his first 20 seconds,” Dineen said. “I was like, ‘Oh, boy, here we go,’ but he sure settled down. We wanted to stay with them early and try to get a little confidence as much as anything. We didn’t do a good job of it, but the fluky goal made a difference.”
Chad Wiseman of Albany was the culprit as Portland took its first lead at 6:11 of the second period.
With the Devils on a power play, Wiseman tugged Byron down from behind as Byron rushed up right wing on a short-handed break.
Byron converted a penalty shot for the second time this year, tucking a shot between McKenna’s pads.
Defenseman Alex Biega took two minor penalties in the final 4:16 of the second, and the second penalty cost Portland the lead. With 8.9 seconds left in the period, Wiseman found Mike Hoeffel alone in the slot, and Hoeffel zipped a wrist shot high past Muse’s glove to make it 2-2.
After a scoreless third and overtime, Albany got the first shootout goal when Muse got a piece of Wiseman’s attempt but the puck rolled in off the handle of his goal stick.
Byron used the same move from his penalty shot to score on Portland’s fourth attempt and keep the Pirates alive, and after Ryan Ginand’s shot sailed wide of Muse, Whitmore beat McKenna between the pads with a wrist shot.
“That was a pretty impressive effort by those guys,” Dineen said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a museum-hanger by any stretch, but at the end of the day they found a way to win.”