SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Big game.

Weak effort.

The Portland Pirates failed to gain ground in the tight race for a playoff spot Friday night with a 5-1 loss to the Springfield Falcons before 3,697 at the MassMutual Center.

More and more, it looks like the race for the final few postseason spots in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference will go down to the wire. The Pirates remain on the outside looking in, with seven teams vying for what might be the final two spots.

It was a close game until the third period, when the Falcons broke a 1-1 tie with four goals in a span of 6:06.

“It’s very disappointing to get outplayed like that in a big game,” Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said.

The Pirates had no one to blame but themselves. Two of Springfield’s third-period goals were short-handed. The Falcons have had the Pirates’ number this season, going 6-1-0-1 against them.

“I don’t know why they don’t have a better record, they certainly play hard against us,” Edwards said. “We couldn’t handle their pressure and we turned the puck over.”

The slow start was disappointing because the Pirates failed to put pressure on a goaltender out of Brown University making his professional debut. Mike Clemente finished with 24 saves.

“We didn’t put pressure or test him,” Edwards said. “When you’ve got a kid making his first start, you’ve got to put him under duress and we didn’t do that.”

Springfield is without both of its regular goalies. Paul Dainton flew to Toronto, where his father is undergoing a lung transplant, and Manny Legace is injured.

Pirates goalie Peter Mannino played well until the third-period meltdown, which was more his teammates’ fault. It started 2:25 into the period when Adam Mair forced a turnover at the blue line and scored a short-handed goal on a breakaway.

Just 2:06 later, Dalton Prout sent a 50-foot slap shot past Mannino. The Falcons got another short-handed goal when Nick Drazenovic created a turnover and set up Matt Calvert to give the Falcons a 4-1 lead.

Tomas Kubalik closed the scoring with 1:37 left on a power play.

Following a scoreless first period in which the Pirates were outshot 15-4, Portland scored at 4:36 of the second. Brett Sterling was left untouched in the slot, where he powered an Andy Miele rebound past Clemente.

It took Springfield 1:14 to pull even. After Mannino stopped a slap shot from the point by Greg Amadio, an off-balance Drazenovic collected the rebound and sailed a shot past Mannino to make it 1-1.

“We didn’t deserve to win this game,” Edwards said. ‘We’ll just have to find a way to put this one behind us.”


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