LEWISTON – Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Rundblad continued to spark the offense as the Portland Pirates notched their third consecutive win for the first time this season Friday night.
The two Swedish defensemen each scored a goal to help the Pirates pull out a 4-2 win against the Manchester Monarchs before a sold-out crowd of 3,745 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
Ekman-Larsson snapped a 2-2 tie less than four minutes into the third period when his wrist shot from the left point went between goalie Martin Jones’ pads for his seventh goal of the season.
“It was a great screen by (Brett Hextall),” Ekman-Larsson said. “I don’t think he saw the puck. It’s so much easier to score when you have a guy in front there and the goalie doesn’t see the puck.”
In his last eight games, Ekman-Larsson has four goals and six assists.
“I just try to play my game,” he said. “Sometimes, when you play hard you score a couple of goals. I play with great players around me, so that really helps.”
It was the Pirates’ third consecutive win over the Monarchs, who beat them twice during the first month of the season. Portland improved to 13-10-1-1 to move into first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division for the first time.
“We’re Game 25 into the season, so we’re still very much a work in progress,” Portland Coach Ray Edwards said. “I think the players understand the way they have to play to be successful, and it’s a matter of fine-tuning it and tweaking some of the things. When the work ethic’s there, you have a chance to win every night, and our group works hard.”
The Pirates, who came into the game averaging more than seven minor penalties per game to lead the AHL, also did a good job of staying out of the penalty box. Only two minor penalties were assessed against them.
“We did a good job of managing our sticks tonight,” Edwards said. “Not only from a stick-on-puck perspective, but we didn’t have any hooking, we didn’t have high sticking. We were a lot smarter with our sticks.”
The score was tied 1-1 at the end of the first period.
The Monarchs opened the scoring less two minutes into the game when Dwight King jammed in a rebound for his fourth goal of the season after goalie Chad Johnson stopped Brandon Kozun on a breakaway.
About six minutes later, Rundblad sneaked down the right side of the slot to score his sixth goal after Jordan Szwarz won a faceoff in the left circle.
It was 2-2 at the end of the second period.
The Pirates took the lead less than four minutes in when Hextall snapped a 15-game scoring drought by sticking in a rebound for his fourth goal, after Jones stopped Ekman-Larsson’s shot.
With less than two minutes left in the period, rookie Tanner Pearson tied the score when his centering pass from the left circle went in off a defender for his fifth goal.
Portland rookie Chris Brown put his 10th goal into an empty net with 2.6 seconds remaining.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: