The Portland Pirates enter the final eight days of the AHL’s regular season with their postseason destiny still in their own hands.
Going into the weekend, four teams had clinched playoff berths in the Eastern Conference, and the Pirates, who have been idle since Wednesday, were among eight teams vying for the remaining four berths.
The Pirates, who have five games left to play, will have do it with a revamped lineup.
Four of Portland’s top five forwards now play for the Phoenix Coyotes, who are embroiled in the race for a Stanley Cup playoff berth that appears destined to go down to the wire.
During the past 10 days, forwards Brandon McMillan, Tyler Bodie, Scott Arnold, Matt Clackson, Justin Feser and Lucas Lessio, and defenseman James Melindy have been added to the Portland roster.
“These are new players with five games left, so you’ve got to get them up to speed and find chemistry, you know, who they best work with,” Edwards said. “We’ll try to find out who will be in the lineup Sunday and who will give us the best chance to win.”
The four Coyotes call-ups — forwards Alexandre Bolduc, Rob Klinkhammer and Chris Conner and defenseman Michael Stone — have produced 67 of the 213 goals scored by the Pirates so far this season.
“It’s tough not having those guys down here,” forward Andy Miele said. “It’s a lot of goals between those guys, but we’re not going to make excuses. We’re going keep playing hard.”
The Pirates resume their push for a berth in the Calder Cup playoffs riding a three-game losing streak.
“We’re not playing bad hockey right now,” Miele said. “We’re playing pretty good. We’re working hard. We’ve just got to keep sticking to the game plan and hopefully get a couple of bounces that go our way.”
Said defenseman Chris Summers: “If we’re going to win, we’re going to win as a team through our systems and our effort.”
Since the NHL started play in January, the Pirates have had to constantly deal with call-ups and injuries.
“We’ve got a new group, and it’s constantly growing every day, but I think that shows the character of our team,” Summers said. “We’re able to adjust and play with the guys we have in the lineup on any given night and produce.”
The Pirates’ final push for the playoffs starts Sunday afternoon with a game at the Cumberland County Civic Center against the Hershey Bears, who are also embroiled in the race for a postseason spot out of the AHL’s Eastern Conference.
The final week of the season includes three games against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who are winless this season in three previous games against the Pirates, as well as a game against the Connecticut Whale, another team fighting for a spot in the playoffs at the start of the weekend.
“It’s going to be tough for us, but it’s a good test for us and we’re excited about it,” Miele said. “It’s the best time of the year, fighting for a playoff spot. The hockey is a lot of fun, right now, and everybody is working hard.”
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: