LEWISTON — Less than a half-minute remained in an extended power play for the Portland Pirates when Lucas Lessio took possession of the puck behind his own net.
He looked up the ice, saw both teams changing lines and started skating. Faster and faster he went, up the left side of the rink, bobbing and weaving between Bridgeport defenders until, with one final hop, he found himself with only goalie Anders Nilsson to beat.
Lessio’s spectacular rink-long scoring rush midway through the third period gave the Pirates their first lead in a game they went on to win 4-2 over the Sound Tigers before a sellout crowd of 3,737 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Tuesday.
“It was kind of lucky, to be honest,” Lessio said of his season’s eighth goal. “But it worked and we won the game, and that’s all that matters.”
The victory was the third in four games for the Pirates, who had fallen behind 2-0 late in the second period, and lifted them two games above .500 at 13-11-1-4. With more than a third of the season already under their belts, they started the day one point behind Bridgeport and Syracuse in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference standings, 13th overall.
Tuesday night marked the 19th New Year’s Eve game in Maine for the Pirates, but their first away from the Cumberland County Civic Center. They are 11-6 in such year-end finales, with an overtime loss and a tie as well.
“Even though we were down early, I liked our effort, I liked our energy,” said Portland Coach Ray Edwards. “I thought we competed hard.”
Bridgeport opened the scoring with help from Joey Diamond, the former University of Maine captain (and career penalty minutes leader), who assisted on a rebound goal by Pierre-Marc Bouchard in the game’s 13th minute.
Also on the ice for the goal was another former UMaine captain turned Sound Tiger, defense—man Mike Cornell.
Brideport made it 2-0 in the opening minute of the second on a power play that started with 16 seconds left in the first period. Anders Lee converted a rebound for his team-leading 13th goal.
The Pirates finally broke through with a little more than two minutes left in the second. Moments after a rather desultory power play expired, Brett Hextall buried a rebound for his fourth goal to make it 2-1.
“That goal by Hextall at the end of the second period really lifted us,” Edwards said. “Going into intermission it gave us some momentum.”
Momentum shifted after a five-minute major assessed to Bridgeport’s Marc Cantin for a check to the head that left Portland’s Brendan Shinnimin sprawled on the ice. Jordan Szwarz converted a feed from Brandon Gormley 38 seconds into the long power play to make it 2-2.
Four minutes later, as Portand’s five-on-four advantage was winding down, Lessio gathered in the puck from behind his own net, picked up speed and weaved his way up ice for the game-winner.
“That’s not how we draw it up,” Edwards said of Lessio’s solo effort. “He’s supposed to be at the blue line. â¦ But it was a (line) change. He likes to have the puck and he likes to have speed.”
Hextall finished off the scoring with an empty-netter.
Goaltender Louis Domingue made 23 saves to remain unbeaten in regulation.
NOTES: The first of two second-period fights involved Kevin Veilleux of the Pirates and Scooter Vaughan of Bridgeport. Last Jan. 13, they were involved in two fights in an ECHL contest, after which Veilleux was suspended 10 games for using a racial slur in reference to Vaughan, who is black.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:[email protected]Twitter: GlennJordanPPH