ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland – Mathematically, it was not a must-win situation.
But it was a game the Portland Pirates had to win.
And to the delight and relief of Pirates Coach Ray Edwards, his players performed that way in a 5-1 win over the St. John’s IceCaps on Wednesday night.
“We knew it would be hard to win both games,” said Edwards, whose team looked flat in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the IceCaps. “So that put a lot more emphasis on tonight.
“It was a credit to our guys how they responded.
“None of us were very proud of (Tuesday) night. As a coaching staff, we weren’t pleased, but I’ve always said that if the coach is upset, then the players are twice as upset, and our players showed that tonight. We needed this game and you could see where the players wanted it.”
The Pirates moved to within a point of the Manchester Monarchs for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Manchester has played one fewer game.
Veteran Garth Murray opened the scoring for St. John’s (41-22-5-3) five minutes into the game, but Portland roared back with goals by Marc-Antoine Pouliot, David Rundblad and Matt Watkins for a 3-1 lead.
Rundblad’s came on the power play, but it was Watkins’ goal at 18:27, which finished off a short-handed breakaway, that sucked the life out of a 36th consecutive sellout crowd at 6,300-seat Mile One Centre.
The Pirates made it 4-1 at 8:17 of the third period when a spinaround backhanded shot by Pouliot went off Brett Sterling and behind St. John’s goalie Chris Carrozzi.
Carrozzi faced 31 shots, and Pirates goalie Justin Pogge turned aside 26.
A third-period goal by Brett MacLean completed a big night for him and linemates Pouliot, who finished with three points, and Sterling, who also had an assist.
“We’re all veteran guys who have had success in this league, and we know in games like this we’re being counted on to lead the team,” said MacLean, who has eight points against St. John’s this season.
MacLean could have been playing for the IceCaps had he cleared waivers when the Winnpeg Jets tried to assign him to St. John’s last fall. Instead he was claimed by Phoenix and eventually assigned to Portland.
“It’s definitely nice to play a team you could have been playing for and to do well, but you should want to play just as well against every team. There really was no extra motivation,” said MacLean.
“(The victory is) a step in the right direction but we can’t admire it too much. We just have to make sure we keep going in that direction as we push to the playoffs.”
That push will continue Saturday night at home against Worcester in the first of three straight home games.
The Pirates finish up April 15 at Providence.
“We’ve played nine of our last 11 on the road and we’ve kept ourselves in it,” said Edwards. “Now we have to take care of things at home and we have to put ourselves in a position where we at least have an opportunity to make that last Sunday matter.”
NOTE: Defenseman Connor Murphy, the first-round pick of the Coyotes last June, will report to the Pirates today. Murphy, 19, recently completed his first junior season with the Sarnia Sting in the OHL.