BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – A little more than 12 hours after pulling off a last-minute 3-2 win against the Binghamton Senators, a few of the Portland Pirates were back on the ice Sunday morning at the venerable Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
“The option is there to go out and get your legs moving, or to use it as a maintenance day to come back and be ready to go (Monday),” Portland Coach Kevin Dineen said. “It’s been an intense couple of weeks here, and decompression days are just as important as what we can accomplish in practice.”
The Senators, who will host Games 4 and 5 of the American Hockey League Atlantic Division finals tonight and Tuesday, took the same approach.
“It was more of a light optional skate for us today, that’s about it,” Binghamton Coach Kurt Kleinendorst said.
“If we get lucky and the sun is out, guys can go for a quick walk and stretch their legs,” Dineen said. “For me, it’s a matter of stepping away from hockey and realizing the rest is as important as trying to keep them engaged.”
After skating to wins Wednesday and Thursday at the Cumberland County Civic Center, Binghamton held a 2-0 lead in the series. The Senators were less than six minutes away from taking a 3-0 lead Saturday night before the Pirates rallied for their dramatic win.
At first, Saturday night’s game followed a familiar pattern. As in Games 1 and 2, the Pirates scored first, taking a first-period lead. But the Senators tied the score in the second period, then moved into the lead.
This time, though, the Pirates engineered their own comeback.
With less than six minutes left in regulation, Derek Whitmore scored his third goal of the playoffs with a wrist shot from just above the left hash mark to tie the score. Then, with 12.5 seconds remaining, defenseman Tim Conboy scored his first goal in more than two years.
“We were not unhappy with the tone of our game in the first couple of games, and we ended up losing them,” Dineen said. “But we’re enthused that we have the right kind of character here to respond to a lot of different adversities. The playoffs are a series of peaks and valleys, and living and dying with a lot of little things.”
Portland’s late rally didn’t surprise Kleinendorst.
“You take a look at the playoffs, even in the NHL right now, and there is not a safe lead out there,” he said. “When you’re talking hockey, it’s a matter of one shot. We had plenty of opportunities to get up (by) more than one goal, and that was ultimately what did us in. We didn’t build ourselves a cushion. When you let good teams hang around, that’s what can happen.”
Saturday night’s game was the professional debut of Zack Kassian, the Buffalo Sabres’ first-round pick in the 2009 draft. Kassian joined the squad after his junior season ended when the Windsor Spitfires were eliminated from the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
“There is no time to feel your way into it this time of year,” said Dineen, recalling how Portland rookie Luke Adam and Anaheim Ducks star Bobby Ryan got their first taste of pro hockey with the Pirates during the playoffs. “They get exposed, and it certainly helps their learning curve.”
“It was exciting,” Kassian said. “Obviously, (the Pirates) were down 0-2, so I got thrown right into the mix. It was great. The guys made feel at home right away.”
“Obviously, it’s a new surrounding,” Kassian added. “It’s a pro league. It’s pro playoffs. Everything’s different. Everything’s put up a couple of notches. I can be better, but for the first game, I felt good.”
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: