Maine Hockey Journal

Unsung heroes step up for Pirates in timely fashion

Portland, ME – Mike McKenna and Stephen Dixon were the heroes of the night and now the Pirates are just one win away from their first appearance in the Calder Cup Finals since 1996.

Dixon scored two goals and McKenna made 27 saves as the Pirates held on for a 2-1 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, taking a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals.

Game six will be Friday night in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Dixon, who spent two years with the Penguins doesn’t have any regrets about putting his former teammates on the brink of elimination.

“Once you’re on the ice, it’s no different who (your opponent is),” said Dixon. “We’re in the playoffs now and its all business. I’ve got a lot of buddies there and people I still keep in touch with.”

“We’ll still be buddies before and after the series, but during (the series) it’s all business.”

It was nearly a scoreless two periods, eerily similar to game one of the series. Neither team wanted to make that mistake which led to the first goal. Fortunately, for the Pirates it was the Penguins who blinked first as Dixon scored on a broken play with 2:49 left in second period.

With the puck dumped deep in the zone, Penguins’ goalie John Curry attempted to send the puck up along the boards, but Dixon, near the right halfboards, intercepted the puck throwing it toward the net. After a short scramble, Dixon found the puck on his stick as Curry found it in the back of the net.

“It’s just one of those bang-bang plays where you don’t really have enough time to do anything with (the puck) anyway,” Dixon said. “A lot of the goals aren’t pretty goals, they’re rebounds, tips and banging around the net and that’s how were going to win games.”

The Pirates added what turned out to be a pivotal goal just 29 seconds into the third period when Dixon was again in the right place at the right time.

Pirates’ defenseman Brett Festerling fired a bullet from the right point, Dixon, in the slot, tipped the shot, changing the direction of the puck, sending it over shoulder of Curry to the give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.

At the other end of the ice, goaltender Mike McKenna, in for an injured J.S. Aubin played superbly in net for the Pirates making several key saves, especially in the third period when he stopped a point blank attempt on Ben Lovejoy and a 2-on-1 rush by Dave Gove.
The lone goal given up by McKenna came midway into the third period when Jonathan Filewich scored a power play goal, cutting the Pirates lead in half. However, when the game mattered most, McKenna didn’t get rattled as he made several saves down the stretch to preserve the win.

“He did the job and that’s what we need,” said Pirates’ head coach Kevin Dineen. “

The Pirates know they will have their work cut out for them, as Wilkes-Barre has been a formidable foe for Portland. The Pirates had to deal with the physical play of the Hartford Wolf Pack and the hard, up-tempo forechecking of the Providence Bruins and they withstood them all, but the Penguins have been the best-balanced team the Pirates have faced to date in terms of all aspects of the game. The Pirates recognize that and respect that fact as they head to Wilkes-Barre for games six and seven (if necessary).

PLANK NOTES: The first shoe has fallen in the Anaheim Ducks version of affiliation musical chairs. Out is the Augusta Lynx; in is the Bakersfield Condors as the Ducks announced a one-year affiliation deal with the ECHL franchise. This is first of what is expected to be wholesale changes for the minor league system of the Anaheim Ducks. It’s expected the Ducks will be leaving Portland, once the season is complete for western pastures, most likely Des Moines, Iowa.

Ducks’ owner Henry Samueli has indicated he would like to have both minor league franchises in California, but that is unlikely anytime as American Hockey League President Dave Andrews indicated they have no interest in California in the league’s current structure.

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Pirates’ forward Petteri Wirtanen has had a rough playoff run. In 15 games, he was pointless with a plus/minus rating of minus nine. He was sat by Dineen for an extended period during game four and held a one-on-one with him today and it seemed to pay off as he had a much better performance.

“(Wirtanen) and I had a little sit down and talked about some of the things he’s been doing,” said Dineen. “He’s been such a big part of my lineup for the last two years and Michal Birner had a lot jump the last two games and putting him on that line might give him a little offensive upside.”

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In attendance at the game last night was AHL Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Jim Mills and AHL Supervisor of Officials Kevin Collins. I hope that they were watching the game closely and taking notes on how poor officiating has been during the playoffs. Last night, Brian Pochmara was official and he was utterly atrocious in his handling of the game. Luckily, both teams have had enough self-restraint to prevent the game from getting out of hand. If this had been during either series between either Hartford or Providence, it would have gotten ugly and fast.

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Jason King wasn’t in the line up for the Pirates due to a lower body injury; he did travel with the team last night as they left for Wilkes-Barre, PA, along with Bruno St. Jacques and J.S. Aubin, who will be re-evaluated today.

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