Saturday, March 8, 2014
Special to the Press Herald
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — They played with lots of energy and kept the opposition at bay with fierce forechecking.
Then, as happens so often in the AHL, the Portland Pirates ran out of gas in the final period. But that's when Jhonas Enroth took over.
Enroth's 17 third-period saves Sunday enabled the Pirates to escape with a 3-2 victory over the Springfield Falcons before 2,472 at the MassMutual Center.
The Pirates continue to improve, using a streak of nine games (6-0-3) with at least one point to move out of last place in the Atlantic Division.
The Pirates, who finally moved over the .500 mark at 11-10-3, are playing with much more confidence. Winning, of course, has a lot to do with it, and the Pirates are finding different ways to win.
''It makes a big difference when you get points in your last three on the road,'' Portland Coach Kevin Dineen said. ''I give Springfield a lot of credit -- they are missing a lot of their high-end players and we did a good job of holding them off.
The Pirates controlled the first two periods and held an 18-12 advantage in shots on goal. But the Falcons caught Portland playing back on its heels during the final 20 minutes, and the Pirates survived thanks to Enroth.
''(Enroth) had a heck of a period,'' Dineen said. ''They kept coming hard and we stayed with them.''
A goal that would have been credited to Portland's Jeff Cowan, was disallowed because of a high stick in the second period. That would have given the Pirates a 4-2 lead.
''It was a judgment call,'' Dineen said. ''That would have been a big swing.''
But the Pirates didn't give up trying.
''We have to work hard for every point we get,'' defenseman Mike Weber said.
Felix Schutz took advantage of a Springfield breakdown late in the second period to score the go-ahead goal. Three Falcons -- Bryan Lerg and defensemen Bryan Young and Jake Taylor -- were behind the net, but somehow Brad Larsen gained control of the puck and delivered a pass to Schutz alone in front. Schutz picked his spot and beat Aaron Sorochan at 14:50 to give the Pirates a 3-2 lead.
That goal came a little more than 2 minutes after the Falcons tied the game, 2-2. Theo Peckham started the play when he hit Liam Reddox with a lead pass. Reddox moved around Weber and fired a wrist shot past Enroth.
The Pirates dominated the first period. Schulz scored 38 seconds in to give the Pirates an early boost. The goal came on a rebound after Sorochan stopped a shot by Marc-Andre Gragani.
''Any time you score early, it's a big lift,'' Dineen said.
A big key was the penalty kill. The Pirates held the Falcons to one shot during a 2-minute power play caused by a too-many-men-on-the-ice call and a slashing infraction to Larsen.
The Pirates bottled up the Falcons in the offensive zone and forced them into trying to make the perfect pass.
''That was huge and it gave us momentum for the rest of the period,'' Weber said. ''Any time you kill a big penalty like that, it's huge for team morale.''
Paul Byron gave the Pirates a 2-0 edge when he scored during a power play at 15:32 of the first period.
It took the Falcons just 15 seconds to answer. Cody Wild hit Colton Fretter with a pass from the right side, and Fretter fired a slap shot past Enroth.