LEWISTON — Maybe this whole head-to-Lewiston thing wasn’t such a good idea.
The Portland Pirates may have reached bottom Tuesday night, blowing a third-period lead for the third game in a row as the Hartford Wolf Pack scored four unanswered goals for a 4-3 victory that sent the Pirates into the AHL basement for the first time this winter.
Jesper Fast scored with 3:30 remaining to cap Hartford’s comeback from a 3-0 deficit. The two points earned by the Wolf Pack left them one ahead of the Pirates, who are tied with Adirondack for last place in the the AHL’s Eastern Conference and remain the only team still searching for its 20th victory.
A crowd of less than half the listed 1,358 at a quiet Colisee saw the Pirates jump to a 3-0 lead in the first period, only to extend their losing streak to four games.
“It’s frustrating,” said Coach Ray Edwards. “I’ve never been through a stretch like this, where we’ve been leading three games in a row going into the third period and haven’t found a way to close it out.
“The positive is we’re leading going into the third. The negative is we’re not finding a way to win the game. Obviously that’s a concern.”
Wearing their red jerseys normally reserved for the road (because of a communications error involving the Hartford equipment manager, who packed only white jerseys for the Wolf Pack), the Pirates came out flying. David Rundblad sprung Lucas Lessio on a breakaway and Lessio made a nifty fake before tucking the puck past the stick side of goalie David LeNeveu to make it 1-0.
Andy Miele doubled the lead 11 seconds after the expiration of a Pirates power play. Tobias Rieder broke up a Hartford breakout attempt and sent a pass in deep to Miele, who flicked the puck over LeNeveu’s glove for his team-leading 21st goal of the season.
With two minutes left in the period, Rostislav Klesla converted from the high slot to make it 3-0 at the first intermission. Tim Kennedy and Randy Jones assisted.
The second period belonged to Hartford, which replaced LeNeveu in net with Dov Grumet-Morris and pulled to within a goal. Grumet-Morris, a 2005 Harvard graduate turned minor league journeyman, cut his teeth in the AHL on the 2006-07 Pirates.
“I appreciate the meritocracy that Kevin (Dineen) tried to run,” said Grumet-Morris, who shut out his old squad in the second and third periods with 16 saves.
“He judged me on my performance on the ice and not on my (tryout) contract, which unfortunately happens in every organization on every level.”
Darroll Powe scored the tying goal for Hartford with 7:18 remaining on a shot from the top of the right circle. Fast’s game-winner came just after an extended Portland offensive opportunity.
“If we bury that, we win the game,” Edwards said. “That’s kind of the way things have been going.”
Pirates goalie Louis Domingue finished with 24 saves and protected a one-goal lead through nearly four minutes of a Hartford power play late in the second period.
When asked about the sparse attendance and somnolent scene inside the Colisee, Edwards was honest.
“There’s zero atmosphere in here,” he said. “That’s not the reason (for the losing streak), but there’s no energy in this building. … There’s nothing to help you get going when the going gets tough. I’m not saying that’s an excuse. It adds to the frustration, I guess.”
The Pirates, who will return to the Cumberland County Civic Center next season, have won only seven of 26 games in Lewiston this winter. They return to action Thursday night at home against Worcester.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or [email protected]