PORTLAND – Fewer than 24 hours after their elimination from the Calder Cup playoffs, members of the Portland Pirates were packing up Saturday and heading for home.
“I think it’s the toughest thing for a professional athlete, from going to being engaged in something like the postseason and all of a sudden being cut off cold turkey,” Portland captain Matt Ellis said. “There’s an adjustment period just like anything else. The end of the year never gets any easier 10 years in. It never feels good.”
The season ended Friday night when the Binghamton Senators skated to a 3-0 victory in Game 6 of their best-of-seven series against Portland.
“It was a tough loss for us to be out in six (games),” Portland left wing Derek Whitmore said. “I thought we’d at least bring it to Game 7 and roll the dice and give ourselves a chance. But that’s the game of hockey for you.”
It was especially tough for the Pirates because three of Binghamton’s victories came at the Cumberland County Civic Center, where Portland went 25-8-6-1 in the regular season to compile the league’s second-best winning percentage (.713) at home.
“We had a great record at home all season and in the first round of the playoffs we played tough on home ice,” Whitmore said. “Losing all three home games (in this series) is frustrating. We deserve better, but it is what it is.
“There’s a lot of guys in our (locker) room who have a great future ahead of them and they can learn from it.”
It wasn’t difficult for the Pirates to find the reason Binghamton ousted them from the playoffs. It was their lack of special-teams play.
“Special teams give us momentum either way, whether its scoring a power-play goal or vice versa,” Ellis said. “Between winning and losing there’s a real fine line and special teams (needed) to come up big for us. We definitely failed in that aspect.”
During the six playoff games against Binghamton, the Pirates scored on only 2 of 20 power plays.
The Senators turned 7 of their 20 power plays into goals.
“The issue was just capitalizing,” said Mark Mancari, who led the Pirates in scoring in the regular season and the playoffs.
“The last game we got a lot of shots, but it’s the quality and once you shoot it, it’s also your work ethic and determination to pounce on those rebounds and get control.”
Mancari said the absence of Marc-Andre Gragnani, the AHL defenseman of the year, and defenseman T.J. Brennan hurt.
Gragnani was unable to return to the Pirates for the playoffs because of waiver issues after spending the last two months with the Buffalo Sabres.
Brennan, a second-year defenseman who missed the last seven games of the playoffs because of a sprained left ankle.
Their absences became a factor on Portland’s lack of success on special teams. But Coach Kevin Dineen didn’t blame the absence of key players on his team’s inability to score on power plays or to stop Binghamton from scoring on its power plays.
“When I lose (Gragnani) to Buffalo, you know what, I look at what our next options are to put the pieces out there,” he said. “We had players out of position and I think they were trying to embrace their role. That’s basically my mindset. You don’t rue what’s not there. You look for the pieces that are going to fit.”
Dineen spent Saturday holding exit interviews with some players.
“We try to give them feedback on where they’re going and what they’ve done,” he said. “It’s always important they understand and have the forum to agree, dispute, discuss things that we think, and where they can maximize their potential and wring what they can out of their careers.”
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: