PORTLAND – The Portland Pirates played one of their best games this season against one of the AHL’s toughest teams Saturday night.

The Pirates recovered from a slow start for a 5-2 win against the St. John’s IceCaps, the Atlantic Division leader, before a crowd of 6,180 at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

It was the fourth consecutive win for the Pirates, who remained in a tie with the Worcester Sharks for second place in the Atlantic Division, and it came against a team that has lost only twice in regulation on the road.

“St. John’s has a very deep team,” Portland right wing Matt Watkins said. “They have four lines that can play. They’ve got a good team, and that’s why they are where they are. But we have a mentality that we can play with anyone as long as we play a solid, hard simple game, and as long as we play as a team. If we do those things, we can be successful against anybody.”

The IceCaps, playing their second game of a six-game trip that ended in Portland on Saturday night, held a 10-5 edge in shots during the first period.

But right wing Patrick O’Sullivan, playing in his 12th game for Portland after spending most of the season in the NHL with the parent Phoenix Coyotes, opened the scoring by finishing off a breakaway with his sixth goal with 17 seconds left in the period.

Watkins, back in the Portland lineup after missing one game because of the flu, and Brett MacLean scored goals less than two minutes apart to send the Pirates into a 3-0 lead with more than 11 minutes left in the second period.

After Watkins got a step behind the defense and put a backhander past goalie Eddie Pasquale for his eighth goal, MacLean jammed his team-high 16th goal.

With less than 11 minutes left in the second period, Aaron Gagnon tipped his eighth goal off the left post to make it 3-1.

Less than two minutes into the third period, St. John’s pulled within a goal when former Pirate Jason King tipped in his team-high 13th goal.

But Portland held off the IceCaps, who are 13-2-2-1 on the road.

Veteran center Alexandre Bolduc, playing in his third game after missing the first 39 games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, put the game away when he scored his first goal of the season on a breakaway with less than 12 minutes left.

Less than three minutes later, defenseman Michael Stone finished off a three-on-two rush by putting in a rocket from center point for his fifth goal to complete the scoring.

“Those goals were big for us,” Portland Coach Ray Edwards said. “You don’t want to go down to the wire 3-2 against that team because they’re deadly.”

NOTES: Portland right wing Ashton Rome broke his nose during a first-period fight with Spencer Machacek. He returned seven minutes into the second period wearing a full face shield

A lower-body injury kept rookie right wing Jordan Szwarz out of the Portland lineup.

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

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Twitter: PaulBetitPPH