PORTLAND — Just when the Portland Pirates needed a “hard player” to help in their drive for a berth in the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs, the Phoenix Coyotes came through Thursday.

The Coyotes returned veteran forward Alexandre Bolduc after he spent the last 10 games with the parent club.

“He’s another veteran, experienced guy who can help us with this push,” Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said. “He knows what it’s like to play in these must-win games and he will hopefully give us another piece to do that.

Last year, Bolduc, who missed the first 39 games of the season while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, played three games for the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup playoffs and 14 games for the Manitoba Moose in the Calder Cup playoffs.

“He’s a hard player, a good penalty-killer,” Edwards said. “He can get some offense for us as well, but he’s a veteran guy who can play in these situations.”

Portland is contending for one of the last two playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. Eight of the 15 teams will advance to the postseason. The Pirates are in ninth place, one point behind the Manchester Monarchs and three behind the Syracuse Crunch.

Both the Monarchs and Crunch hold a game in hand over the Pirates. Tonight, the Monarchs, who are in the middle of a six-game trip, play the Connecticut Whale in Hartford and the Crunch, who play four of their last five games on the road, are at Bridgeport.

After playing nine of their last 11 on the road, the Pirates finish the regular season with three of their last four games at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

“If we can just win our games, hopefully that’s enough,” Edwards said. “We’ll see.”

In recent weeks, Syracuse and Manchester have trended toward the positive side. The Crunch have earned points in 14 of their last 15 games; the Monarchs have earned points in eight of their last 11 games.

Earlier this week, Portland managed to stay close by winning 1 of 2 games against the St. John’s Ice Caps during a three-day trip to Newfoundland.

In those two games against the Atlantic Division leaders, Edwards put Marc-Antoine Pouliot, who returned from a three-week stay with the Coyotes last weekend, on the same forward line with Brett MacLean and Brett Sterling for the first time. The unit produced five of the seven goals the Pirates scored in the two games.

“We didn’t play very well (as a team) the first night but I thought the second game they drove our group,” Edwards said. “They were the best line on the ice, and it was one of the best games (Pouliot) has had for us. We’re going to need him to do that down the stretch if we’re going to have a chance to push this thing into the playoffs.”

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

pbetit@pressherald.com

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH