Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates understand what’s at stake

Portland, ME – Now is good as any time for the Portland Pirates to start a winning streak and make a final playoff push in the Atlantic Division.

With 10 games left in the season, the Pirates are sitting in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, tied for the final playoff spot with the Worcester Sharks, both with 73 points. The Sharks have played one more game than Portland, still, the Pirates control their own fate, but if their play doesn’t improve soon they could find themselves on the outside looking in at the Atlantic Division.

“We have to approach it as our backs are against the wall,” said Pirates’ forward Derek Whitmore. “We’ve been talking about this for a month and a half now and its do or die.”

“Our playoffs are now. We’re running out of time.”

The Pirates last win at the Cumberland County Civic Center was nearly a month ago when they won 6-1 against the Lowell Devils. They went winless over the weekend including giving up a 4-1, lead as they fell, 5-4, to the Hershey Bears.

“We got off the hook easy this past week,” said Whitmore. “Going into last week we were (a couple points) out of third and it’s the same way it is now. We got lucky and chances like that (to make up ground) don’t come by too often and we have another opportunity this weekend.”

When the Pirates hit the ice again this weekend, they will meet up with the Devils again for a final meeting at the Civic Center on Friday night. In the last two games against Lowell, the Pirates have outscored them 12-2. The Devils sit in three points behind Portland in sixth place.

Defeating Lowell on Friday is a good place to start in the Pirates’ final 10-game push for the playoffs, as they will have a healthy dose of divisional opponents from now until the end of the regular season.

Each game has an extra meaning not lost on the players.

“The bottom line is we have 10 games left and we’ve got to play game to game and deal with anything in the past,” said Pirates’ forward Felix Schutz. “The biggest thing is we need to play well.”

The Pirates have been a team hit hard by injuries this season, losing three of their top defensemen for the season as part of the teams 377 man-games lost, and at times, the team has appeared to be worn down with the injuries taking their toll on them mentally.

That said the Pirates have been a team that has persevered for the part through what could be considered as a difficult season.

“It’s a little bit of both (good and bad). Nobody wants to lose these games; it’s not why we play. We’re just not getting the results,” said Whitmore. By this point of the season with what’s at stake it’s not hard to get up for games.”

“We’re in a dog fight playing for our playoff lives.”

One would think with the possibility of getting an infusion of players into the lineup from college players, or players who have completed their seasons in junior hockey would give the Pirates some fresh bodies and energy as they attempt to lock down a playoff spot.

Not necessarily, the case as Whitmore pointed out.

“In a sense it’s positive, but at the same time bringing in guys could be a negative to guys who have been here all year,” Whitmore. “Of course, it’s a positive if there are injuries and guys aren’t playing the way they should, (the coaching staff) can give a wake up call that way.”

With 10 games left, the Pirates will make a push, Dineen is a master at getting the most out of his team at this time of the season, but if they should fail one has think if this is a sign of times to come for the Pirates as the affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres or a one-year fluke.

NOTES: Pirates’ head coach Kevin Dineen shuffled his forward lines as he tries to find some chemistry and scoring in the final 10 games of the regular season. Beside the line of Mancari-Zagrapan-Murphy, he rotated his lines going with Darche-Kennedy-Bouck; Gerbe-Schutz-Fretter; Rank-Whitmore-Bonneau. In day three of Persson watch, he has yet to arrive in Portland as he waits in Sweden for his work visa. Once he receives approval, he’ll be on his way to Portland, which should be in time for this weekend. The Pirates released defenseman Steve Ward from his PTO yesterday, sending him back to the Charlotte Checkers of the ECHL. In eight games, Ward scored a goal and an assists for two points with a -2 rating.

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