Negotiations to end the NHL lockout may be reaching a critical point, but it’s business as usual for the Portland Pirates.

Following an hour-long skate at the Portland Ice Arena Thursday morning, all 26 players on the AHL team boarded a bus to travel to games this weekend in New York and Pennsylvania.

“A couple of guys are still banged up, but we’ve got two pregame skates so it gives them an opportunity to skate,” Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said. “To keep them back here by themselves makes no sense. It will be a full bus, but that’s all right.”

The AHL team left on its road trip as negotiations continued between the NHL owners and players to end a lockout that is entering its 84th day and has already resulted in the cancellation of 422 regular-season games.

If the lockout suddenly ends and NHL training camps open, a number of Pirates are expected to be called up by the parent Phoenix Coyotes.

“We’ve always been prepared for that situation so we have a handle on what may happen if (the Coyotes) start up,” Edwards said. “We’re prepared either way.”

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who spent the last 11/2 seasons playing in the NHL for the Coyotes, is expected to be among the first of the Pirates to be called up when the NHL resumes operations.

“We don’t know if they are going to figure it out or not, but I don’t try to think about it too much,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I’m down here now, and I’m trying to help the team.”

The Pirates, who have won four of their last five road games, are taking three goaltenders on the trip.

Rookie goalie Mark Visentin, who is 3-5-0-1, will start Friday night against the Binghamton Senators in place of veteran Chad Johnson, who is nursing a lower-body injury. Mike Lee, another rookie who was called from the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators earlier this week, also is making the trip.

Right wing Jordan Szwarz, who has missed three games because of an upper-body injury, also is making the trip, but Edwards doubted the second-year pro would see any action.

“Now, he’s probably more day-to-day instead of week-to-week,” the coach said, “but I don’t see him playing Friday or Saturday’s games.”

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

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