March 2, 2011

Portland Pirates pick up ground in race

Paul Byron returns and provides a boost as Portland moves closer to the division lead with a win.

By Paul Betit pbetit@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Playing on the Cumberland County Civic Center ice for the first time in nearly six weeks, Paul Byron provided the spark the Portland Pirates needed Tuesday night.

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Derek Whitmore, right, of the Pirates checks Worcester’s Patrick Davis in Portland’s 6-2 victory.

Photos by Shawn Patick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Marc-Andre Gragnani, left, of the Pirates flips the puck past Worcester’s Benn Ferriero Tuesday night at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Portland pulled within four points of division-leading Manchester with a 6-2 win.

COMING UP
SATURDAY:
Bridgeport Sound Tigers at Pirates, 7 p.m.
SUNDAY: Springfield Falcons at Pirates, 4 p.m.

Byron, a 156-pound center who returned over the weekend from a lengthy stay with the NHL-parent Buffalo Sabres, had a goal and two assists to lead the Pirates to a 6-2 victory against the Worcester Sharks before a crowd of 2,690.

"It's been a long time since I've played in Portland," Byron said. "I was pretty excited to come back and play a home game."

Byron, in his second AHL season, skated with high-scoring rookie Luke Adam and Mark Mancari, the AHL's leading scorer, on his wings. It was a new line combination that was put together this past weekend and it produced three goals against the Sharks.

"I only had one practice before getting back into it, so there's a whole adjustment period going from league to league and I think that's normal," Byron said. "But I think our line was real good tonight, and hopefully we can keep it going on the weekend."

The Pirates, the second-place team in the AHL's Atlantic Division, pulled to within four points of idle Manchester. Portland has played four fewer games than the Monarchs.

It was a solid effort by the Pirates, who had lost four of their previous five games.

"I'd like to say that our defense was more sturdy, but I really think our offense had a lot more jump tonight," Portland Coach Kevin Dineen said. "We had more puck possession. We had the puck on our sticks and we were creating things. It's pretty tough to get shots when you don't have the puck.

"When you can control the pace of play and control the puck possession, you're going to have good success."

Byron helped stake the Pirates to a 3-0 lead in the first period.

Less than two minutes in, he set up the first of Adam's two goals by sending a pass across the front of the crease from the left circle.

After winning a faceoff in the left circle nearly 10 minutes later, he skated across the goal mouth and lifted a backhander into the right side for his 15th goal of the season.

With less than three minutes left in the period, defenseman T.J. Brennan put in shot from the right point for his 11th goal. It was his sixth goal in 10 games.

Momentum seesawed during the second period.

Nine minutes in, Worcester defenseman Sean Sullivan finished off a rush with a shot from the top of the slot for his 12th goal.

Barely a minute later, Derek Whitmore made it 4-1 by converting Byron's pass from the right circle into his 22nd goal on a shot from the right circle during Portland's fourth power play.

With less than six minutes left in the second period, Worcester right wing Dan DaSilva scored his 12th goal after he was left alone in the slot.

After stepping out of the penalty box, Adam picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and scored his 19th goal on a breakaway with five seconds left in the period for a 5-2 lead.

Colin Stuart, who returned to the Portland lineup over the weekend following a four-game absence because of injury, completed the scoring with his 11th goal on a power play with less than eight minutes left.

 

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: pbetit@pressherald.com

 

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