SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Andy Miele knew two points were within his team’s grasp.
All he needed to do was convert his chance during the shootout and the nightmare would be over for him and his Portland Pirates teammates.
Miele, the last shooter by chance rather than design, beat Jeremy Smith on the final bid of the shootout as the Pirates ended their six-game winless streak Sunday with a 4-3 victory over the Springfield Falcons.
It was Portland’s first win over Springfield this season and the Pirates’ first victory since beating the Bridgeport Sound Tigers 2-0 on Jan. 11.
“It’s been a tough stretch for us,” Coach Ray Edwards said. “To find a way to win is just good for the group and good for our morale.”
This was by no means a perfect game for the Pirates, who, like the Falcons, were playing for the third time in as many nights. Both teams were weary, but Portland found a way to prevail.
Goaltender Mark Visentin had a lot to do with the win, stopping 37 shots and frustrating Falcon flurries in the third period.
“Mark made three or four really big saves in the third period,” Edwards said. “I liked the way we fought back.”
The Pirates had a chance to win when they went on a power play in overtime, but Springfield negated the disadvantage and the game went to the shootout.
Portland’s Tobias Rieder and Springfield’s Jack Skille traded goals early in the shootout. Darryl Boyce was denied on his bid and it was all up to Miele.
“I felt less pressure after they didn’t score,” Miele said. “I’d been struggling with my shootouts, so I went not thinking too much. I made a couple of moves and got it upstairs.”
Miele was not the final shooter by design.
“I usually tell the guys ahead of time who is going to shoot, but this time I didn’t and went with a gut feeling,” Edwards said. “I can’t take full credit.”
Visentin made 13 saves during a third period that saw the Falcons constantly buzz the net.
“He played with a lot of confidence and when you have a confident goaltender, you have a confident team,” Miele said.
The Pirates had been 0-3 against the Falcons, who still lead the Northeast Division despite losing their last three games – all against the bottom three teams in the Eastern Conference.
“We had some good moments. We had some poor moments. But we hung in there,” Edwards said. “They were all over us in the first period, but by the second period, we were able to stabilize the game.”
Neither team looked sharp at the start. Springfield’s Sean Collins opened the scoring 86 seconds into the game.
Miele scored his 18th goal at 4:04 and Chris Brown put the Pirates ahead less than three minutes later after vacating the penalty box. But Michael Chaput tied the score at 2 just 26 second later.
Skille broke the tie with 2:30 left in the first period with a power-play goal, but Brown evened the score in the second period with his second goal of the game, when the Pirates had the man-advantage.
“The second period was crucial for us,” Edwards said. “We took a breath and tied it up.”