PORTLAND – After playing their last four games on the road, the Portland Pirates came up for a little air Wednesday night and kept their flagging playoff hopes alive with a solid 4-1 win against the Manchester Monarchs at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
“It’s huge,” said forward Brett MacLean, who scored his 20th and 21st goals. “It keeps us in the race. Obviously, we’d like to be a little bit closer, but this is a big win for us. It’s a difference between being way out and being right back in it.”
Unfortunately, the victory didn’t help the Pirates make up any ground. They are still three points out of the last playoff spot in the AHL’s Eastern Conference with eight games remaining.
But Wednesday night’s game was an example of the kind of game the team has to play when it hits the road to remain in the playoff race.
“We played pretty solid and tried to keep the game simple, and it worked for us,” MacLean said. “We’ve just got to keep doing that.”
The Pirates will get plenty of chances. They start a four-game trip Friday night in Worcester, Mass.
“We’ve got four on the road, and if we do well there, three of our last four games are at home, and we could put ourselves in pretty good position,” MacLean said. “We have to keep it simple. We’ve got to be smart and be patient.”
After getting off to a slow start against the Monarchs, who had outscored the Pirates 10-2 in their last two meetings, Portland got a break and took advantage.
Six minutes into the game officials waved off a goal by Manchester’s Patrick Mullen as they were about to call a cross-checking penalty on Ray Kaunisto.
Less than two minutes later, Portland defenseman Nick Ross stuck the puck inside the right post for his second goal of the season after receiving Mathieu Beaudoin’s pass from behind the net.
With 37 seconds left in the first period, MacLean made it 2-0 when he wheeled in from the neutral zone and scored on a low shot from the top of the slot.
Less than three minutes into the second period, Kaunisto made up for his earlier penalty when he got behind defenseman Paul Rundblad and deked out goalie Peter Mannino before sliding his seventh goal into the open net.
Four minutes later, Portland regained its two-goal lead when MacLean stuck in a rebound at the end of a three-on-two rush.
With 52.2 seconds left in the second period, Ashton Rome, who has been on a tear lately, completed the scoring with his 10th goal on a quick shot from the left circle. It was his seventh goal in 10 games.
Mannino, making his seventh start since joining the Pirates earlier this month, made 33 saves, and the Pirates killed off all five of Manchester’s power plays.
“Timely saves. Timely penalty kill. Timely goals,” Portland Coach Ray Edwards said. “It was just one of those games that we competed hard.”
After Friday, the Pirates’ trip continues in Bridgeport (Saturday) and in St. John’s (Tuesday and Wednesday).
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at [email protected]