SACO — The surprising first-round playoff exit for the NHL Atlantic Division champion Florida Panthers is producing dividends for their American Hockey League affiliate.

The Portland Pirates, tied at one game each with Hershey in their best-of-five first-round playoff series, welcomed back defenseman Mike Matheson, right wing Logan Shaw and center Greg McKegg on the eve of Game 3 in Pennsylvania on Thursday night.

In Florida’s 4-2 series loss to the New York Islanders, Matheson played in five games (including 32 minutes in the double-overtime loss in Game 5), Shaw in three and McKegg in one.

After splitting the first two games at home, the Pirates must win twice in Hershey to advance to the second round against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which swept Providence in three games that all went overtime.

“I don’t really think we learned anything new in the first two games,” said Pirates Coach Scott Allen after Portland’s practice Monday in Saco. “I felt we were thorough enough in our preparation for them.”

The Pirates won the opener 6-4 on Friday. Hershey, the Atlantic Division champion, responded with a 3-1 victory the next night. In four regular-season games, the teams each won twice. The Pirates hold a 19-18 edge in goals during the six meetings.

“They didn’t have any surprises for us,” Allen said of the Bears, whose NHL affiliate Washington begins a second-round series Thursday against Pittsburgh. “They’re a good team. We know that.”

McKegg, who had to clear waivers before returning to the Pirates, had been with the Panthers since mid-March. He played 47 games with the Pirates, with 10 goals and 13 assists.

Shaw saw action in 56 games with the Panthers and scored five goals. He was recalled three times by Florida and played only 19 games with the Pirates, with 11 goals and three assists.

Matheson enjoyed a plus-14 rating in 54 games with the Pirates, scoring eight goals and assisting on 12 others. He went up for two games in late February before being recalled again in early April for Florida’s regular-season finale and the playoff series; he registered his only point with an assist on a Reilly Smith goal in Game 3.

“These are guys who have been our teammates all year long, whether they’ve been here a month or three months or whatever it is,” said goaltender Mike McKenna. “We’re going to need everybody for sure. If you make it to the Calder Cup finals, you don’t do it with 20 guys. We need everybody.”

The Pirates drew two of their biggest crowds of the season last weekend, a total of more than 9,000.

In 38 regular-season games, Hershey averaged an AHL-best 9,790 at its home arena, Giant Center.

Pirates forward Shane Harper, who has two goals in the playoffs, spent parts of four AHL seasons with nearby Adirondack, so he’s familiar with the building.

“It’s a fun rink to go in,” he said. “You get excited to play there. Even in warmups, it’s pretty packed. So right from the start of the game, the energy’s going to definitely be ramped up. I don’t think it’s going to be a hindrance to us because we’re going to be up just as much as they are.”

Forward Rocco Grimaldi was with the Panthers in late November when the Pirates made their only previous visit to Hershey this season. The arena will be new to him, but not the feeling of a cavalry riding to the rescue.

Last spring in San Antonio, the third-seeded Rampage received three players after the Panthers failed to make the playoffs – including center Vincent Trocheck, who scored 25 goals for Florida this season – just before taking on sixth-seeded Oklahoma City.

“We thought it was going to be a lot easier because we had some of our best players coming down,” Grimaldi said. “And then – boom! – a three-nothing sweep. So we can’t be satisfied just with getting guys back. It’s obviously great to have them but it’s a team game and each guy needs to keep bringing it.”