March 22, 2013

To book playoff berth, Pirates must get on same page

The Pirates hope to come together to shake off a six-week lull and make it to the AHL playoffs.

By Paul Betit pbetit@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - With exactly 30 days and 15 games remaining in the regular season, the Portland Pirates' players say they need to tweak just a few things to reach the AHL playoffs.

COACH RAY EDWARDS' THREE KEYS DOWN THE STETCH

1. "We have to give up less goals. ... The goals-against has to go down in the last 15 games for us to get playing the way we want to play."

2. "Playing to our identity. Being consistent and I would say we want to try to reach for perfection with our identity. ..."

3. "Our focus and our mental toughness are going to be key down the stretch."

TOP EIGHT TEAMS IN AHL EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Syracuse Crunch*

2. Providence Bruins*

3. Springfield Falcons*

4. Binghamton Senators

5. Portland Pirates

6. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

7. Hershey Bears

8. Connecticut Whale

* Denotes division leader

NOTE: The three division winners and the next five teams with the best records qualify for postseason play.

"I don't think there's a whole lot of things we need to change," said center Alexandre Bolduc, the captain. "We've got the right group of guys. We've got every piece of the puzzle here to win, and we just have to get everyone playing the same night the same way."

The Pirates remain very much in contention for the playoffs, but it's been difficult the past six weeks to get each player on the same page in every game.

During a two-month stretch that ended Feb. 2, Portland went 17-9 to move into first place in the Atlantic Division. Since then the Pirates have gone 7-6-2-1 to fall into second, eight points behind the Providence Bruins.

"Pretty much getting everybody going every night is what we need to fix, and not have just half the guys going one night and the other half going the next night," said Bolduc, who played in the Calder Cup playoffs in four of his five seasons with the old Manitoba Moose and in three Stanley Cup playoff games with the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. "We need a full commitment from everybody."

In the AHL, a second-place finish doesn't guarantee a spot in the playoffs. In each of the 30-team league's two conferences, the three division winners and the five teams with the next-best win-loss records advance.

Going into the weekend, the Pirates are fifth in the Eastern Conference.

"In this last stretch of games we have had a very inconsistent game," said right wing Jordan Szwarz, in his second pro season with the Pirates. "As a team, as a whole, we can do much better just sticking to our game play every night. I think we've gotten away from that. We really need to buckle down here in the last 15 games and come together like we were playing at the start of the year."

Earlier this week, Coach Ray Edwards met with each player individually.

"He had the same meeting with all of us about everyone accepting their role and getting back to the way we were earlier in the season when we were winning," said Andy Miele, the 2011 Hobey Baker Award winner as Division I college hockey's top player.

"We haven't been that great here in March. If we can just figure out what we've got to do to play that full 60-minute game, there should be no reason why we're not playing for a long time in the playoffs."

Eight of the remaining games will be played at the Cumberland County Civic Center, where the Pirates have earned points in nine of their last 10 games.

Portland has four games left against the St. John's IceCaps, three against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, two against the Manchester Monarchs, and one each against the Albany Devils, the Connecticut Whale, the Hershey Bears, the Springfield Falcons and Providence.

"It's tough we're not going to be playing Providence too many times to try to catch them," Miele said.

"We can control how we play and that's it, and that's the only thing we're worrying about right now."

Until last weekend, the Pirates had the AHL's best home-ice record, but they've lost four of their last five home games by one goal, and three of them were decided in overtime or a shootout.

"It's easy to say 'I want to win,' but it's doing the things that make you win that we may lose focus on during 60 minutes," Bolduc said.

"I have 100 percent confidence in this group and everyone here. It's more fine-tuning than anything. Nothing major."

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

pbetit@pressherald.com

Twitter: PaulBetitPPH

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