MANCHESTER, N.H. — The Portland Pirates came up a couple minutes short of knocking off the Eastern Conference-leading Manchester Monarchs on Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
Instead, Monarch Sean Backman came down the right wing and blasted a shot that beat goaltender Louis Domingue high to the stick side with 1:11 left in overtime to give his team a 4-3 victory.
The Pirates were on the wrong side of a wild comeback: Manchester needed a pair of extra-attacker goals by Jordan Weal in the final 1:43 of regulation to erase Portland’s 3-1 lead.
“You’ve got a two-goal lead with two minutes left, you’ve got to find a way to finish the game,” said Portland Coach Ray Edwards.
“But that’s been our problem this year and that’s why we are where we are.”
The Pirates have just one win in their last seven games, have a record of 24-34-3-8 and are trying to hold off the Adirondack Phantoms to avoid having the worst mark in the American Hockey League.
The Monarchs also clinched the VIP Cup that goes to the winner of the season series between the teams. They have won seven of the 10 games so far.
Portland plays at Providence at 3:05 p.m. Sunday. The Pirates then face the Monarchs again on Wednesday night in Lewiston in a game that was originally scheduled to be the season-ender on April 20.
Regulation on Saturday was a game of dueling hat tricks.
Lucas Lessio scored all three of his goals in the second period, staking the Pirates to a 3-1 lead.
Weal had a second-period goal and the two late ones. He cut the Portland lead to 3-2 from out front at 18:17 of the third period and tied it with a power-play goal with 31 seconds left in regulation.
Portland’s Brandon Yip had been called for boarding and high-sticking with 41 seconds to go.
“You can’t take that penalty,” Edwards said. “It’s a bad penalty. It puts them in a good situation.”
Weal shot from near the right faceoff circle and the puck deflected off the skate of Portland defenseman Sam Klassen and past Domingue, who played well and made 23 saves.
Lessio finished off a nice bit of power-play passing to beat Manchester goalie Patrik Bartosak just 27 seconds into the second period.
Weal took advantage of a Pirates turnover in their own end to get that one back at 4:05 of the period.
The next goal was all Lessio. He got out of the penalty box, skated deep into the Portland end to get the puck and then raced up the right side. He turned a defender inside out and got in alone on Bartosak and tucked the puck behind him.
Lessio completed his hat trick with a shot just under the crossbar from straight on as he headed to the net at 13:22. Left wing Darian Dziurzynski set that one up with a pass from the right boards.
Lessio was in no mood to celebrate his first career hat trick.
“You always enjoy scoring, but at the end of the day, winning is first,” he said.
“For 58 minutes, I thought we dictated the game and controlled it.”
But it was not long enough.