PORTLAND – The puck sped into the empty net and turned out the lights. There would be no tomorrow and certainly no deciding Game 7. The Portland Pirates lost 3-0 on Friday night, ending their season too soon.
A team that captured the imagination and upped the expectations of its fans couldn’t pay off. Seconds after Kaspars Daugavins scored Binghamton’s third goal, many among the announced crowd of 2,713 stood up and walked out of the Cumberland County Civic Center.
There was still 1:21 to play but the season was over.
Standing near the corner of the arena where the Pirates enter and exit the ice, I could hear the scorn and the anger.
Why not? Sports fans forever will endure their love-hate relationships with their favorite teams. When you invest and don’t see the returns, you’re disappointed. To put it mildly.
The team that played so well in Binghamton on Wednesday night, winning 6-2 and forcing a return to Maine for Game 6, searched for a spark.
“There’s no urgency,” said Dan Foster of South Portland between the second and third periods, standing with fellow fans near the concessions. No desperation. No back-to-the-wall mindset.
“This is what happens,” said Tom Foley of Portland. “They get an early goal in the third, get one late to tie and win in overtime. You’ll see.”
Would he put his house on that? No. A beer, maybe.
I didn’t see him in the crowd heading for the doors after Daugavin’s goal. But then, there were so many.
Portland isn’t Boston or New York or Philadelphia. Here, fans react more than lead.
When Jim O’Brien scored Binghamton’s first goal 25 seconds into the game, the crowd groaned.
When the Pirates had a two-man power play for about 1:20 and failed to score, there were scattered boos.
The Pirates were playing more deliberately, looking for the shot that could somehow beat Binghamton goalie Robin Lehner. When maybe they should have played with the desperation that hockey fans recognize.
All sports have game-changers, playmakers, catalysts. Friday night, the Pirates didn’t.
Yes, they were beat up. No playoff system in any other sport is as grueling. Maybe the gas tank was close to empty. Although no hockey player will say that.
The trademark of Coach Kevin Dineen’s teams is their work ethic. The Pirates didn’t stop working. Binghamton worked harder. Binghamton seemed to play with a little more jump in their legs.
Portland could shrug off the quick opening goal. The Pirates couldn’t shrug off that five-on-three power play that yielded nothing. They needed to plug into some energy but couldn’t connect.
With about four minutes left and the score 2-0, longtime Pirates fans started saying their goodbyes to each other. The last sand in the season’s hourglass was trickling away quickly.
With about 30 seconds left, the hundreds who were left in the crowd stood and applauded, and continued as both teams skated through the customary handshake. Both teams took their time: There was more respect than usual.
Binghamton’s defensemen swept the crease clean of pucks stopped by Lehner. Binghamton broke up Portland’s attempts to pressure. Binghamton played well.
The Senators skated off, leaving the Pirates alone on the ice to face the fans, who were still applauding. The season was over but this was a coach and a hockey team that mixed and matched personnel all season, and still won the division and led the AHL in scoring.
Yes, the elimination stung. The playoffs aren’t about the best team surviving to play again. It’s about the hottest team. The Pirates couldn’t score one goal Friday night. One goal that might have provided the juice to pick up the team and the crowd.
“I tried to wring everything I could out of them,” said Dineen. “It’s tough when you feel your team didn’t realize their full potential.”
Not on this night.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: