March 11, 2010

Knocking on the door

PAUL BETIT

— By

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Pirate's Mark Mancari flips the puck down the ice as Springfield's Rob Bina moves in during first period action Sunday, April 5, 2009.

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Portland's Tim Kennedy, left, is congratulated by teammates Nathan Gerbe and Mathieu Darche after Kennedy's first period goal Sunday April 5, 2009.

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The Portland Pirates moved a step closer to clinching a playoff berth for the third time in four seasons Sunday afternoon.

Mathieu Darche and Colin Murphy scored third-period goals to propel the Pirates to a 6-4 win against the lowly Springfield Falcons in an AHL game before a near-sellout crowd of 6,644 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

''This time of the year, it doesn't matter who does what as long as we get the two points,'' Darche said. ''We've had a lot of games where the rookies have carried us. Tonight, it was our turn to make a difference.''

The victory propelled Portland into third place in the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of Worcester.

The Pirates can clinch a playoff berth as soon as Wednesday. A win against the Sharks at the DCU Center in Worcester that night and a Manchester loss to Hartford would do the trick, as would an overtime loss by the Pirates coupled with a regulation loss by Manchester.

With three games left in the regular season, Portland is four points ahead of fifth-place Manchester. The top four teams from each division qualify for the playoffs.

Hartford and Providence have already clinched playoff berths in the Atlantic Division, and both will have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

In their last seven games, the Pirates earned 11 of a possible 14 points to keep themselves in contention.

''We've set us up for a nice week,'' Darche said. ''We set ourselves up to be in a good position to be in the playoffs, (but) we still haven't got the job done.''

Darche, a veteran of eight AHL seasons who has played 99 NHL games, has done all he can lately to move the Pirates closer to the playoffs.

Darche scored his first short-handed goal of the season on a breakaway with less than eight minutes left to play, giving the Pirates a 5-3 lead.

He added an empty-netter in the final minute, and now has a team-high 29 goals, including six in the last five games.

Murphy, in his fourth AHL season, put the Pirates ahead to stay five minutes into the third period.

He stole the puck and finished a rush down the left side by scoring his 12th goal of the season, snapping a 3-3 tie.

After Darche's first goal, Springfield defenseman Mike Gabinet scored his second career AHL goal during a power-play to pull the Falcons back to within a goal with six minutes left.

The score was tied 2-2 at the end of the first period.

Springfield's Ryan Potulny opened the scoring at 8:32, 12 seconds into his team's second power play of the game. It was Potulny's team-high 35th goal of the season.

A little more than three minutes later, Nathan Gerbe tied the score with his 27th goal, on a breakaway set up by Tim Kennedy's long pass.

Kennedy broke the tie at 16:23, converting Darche's pass from behind the net into his 18th goal.

Portland couldn't hold on to the lead, however. With 23 seconds left in the first, Colin McDonald tied the score with his 10th goal, following a turnover.

Mark Mancari put the Pirates ahead again at 7:50 of the second period, firing a hard shot from the left circle past goalie Devan Dubnyk's for his 28th goal.

Bryan Young made it 3-3 at 13:27 of the second when he snapped a shot from the top of the left circle past goalie Jhonas Enroth.

NOTES: Travis Turnbull, the son of former NHL forward Perry Turnbull, made his AHL debut for the Pirates. Turnbull, a center who played alongside Kennedy at the University of Michigan, joined the Pirates after completing his senior season with the Wolverines. A back injury kept left wing Derek Whitmore out of the Portland lineup for just the third time this season. ... Defenseman Matt Generous, who joined the Pirates last week after completing his collegiate career at St. Lawrence, was in the lineup for the second straight game.

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

pbetit@pressherald.com

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