By Paul Betit
PORTLAND - The Portland Pirates came back from a three-goal deficit for the second time this season to pull out a victory Monday night.
It's not something they want to have to keep doing.
Ethan Werek capped the comeback by putting in a backhander for his fifth goal of the season with less than eight minutes left, lifting the Pirates to a 4-3 victory against the Connecticut Whale before a New Year's Eve crowd of 6,270 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.
"You never want to be battling, playing catch-up, but it shows the resiliency of our team, and the fight but it's something we've got to clean up," Werek said.
Portland has won eight of its last nine games to move into first place in the Atlantic Division. The Pirates previously rallied from a 4-1 deficit to pull out a 6-5 victory against the Springfield Falcons on Nov. 23.
"The first period I didn't mind, but the second period was atrocious until the 18-minute mark and I was not real happy with that," Portland Coach Ray Edwards said.
Connecticut opened a 3-0 lead in the first 23 minutes on goals by former Pirate Brandon Segal, Mike Haley and Tommy Grant.
Defensemen Mathieu Brodeur and Chris Summers scored in the final 1:20 of the second period to help the Pirates close the gap.
Brodeur stuck a backhander into the left side for his second goal after rookie Brendan Shinnimin won a faceoff in the right circle. Just over a minute later, Summers put in a shot from near the left faceoff dot for his first goal of the season.
"When we decide to play the right way, we can get some stuff down," Edwards said. "We showed that at the end of the (second) period by playing the right way and doing the right things."
Portland carried its momentum into the third period, and Jordan Szwarz made it 3-3 when he tipped in defenseman Michael Stone's blast from center point for his second goal. The score game with less than 30 seconds left on the Pirates' fifth power play of the game.
David Rundblad, another defenseman, assisted on Werek's first game-winning goal of the season.
"It shows how we incorporate our (defensemen)," Werek said. "We have a great (defensive) corps, and they jump into the rush, and they're really good at getting pucks through. It's huge when you've got a lot of offense from your back end."
Chad Johnson made 32 saves to beat his old team for the second time this season, including stops on short-handed breakaway attempts by Ryan Bourque and Kelsey Tessier in the third period.
"We needed some big saves down the stretch," Edwards said.
"They had a couple of momentum swings after we tied the game where (Johnson) had to make some big stops."
NOTES: For the second consecutive game, undisclosed injuries kept defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Maxim Goncharov out of the Portland lineup. Connecticut defenseman Dylan McIlrath began a two-game suspension following an elbowing incident at Bridgeport last Wednesday night. Defenseman T.J. Brennan, who spent the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons with the Pirates, was named AHL player of the week after scoring a goal and five assists in three games for the Rochester Americans.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: