Maine Hockey Journal

Rau scores twice as Pirates defeat Phantoms

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 1/2/2016. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 1/2/2016. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

PORTLAND – Different coach, but that same result for the Portland Pirates.

Kyle Rau scored two goals including the game-winner in overtime to lift the Pirates past the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 4-3, Saturday evening before 3,252 at the Cross Insurance Arena.

Cameron Gaunce sent a long stretch pass to Rocco Grimaldi rushing up ice along the right wall, getting behind the Phantoms’ defender and driving the net, before sending a behind the back pass to Rau in the slot for his team-leading 15th goal of the season with 2:14 remaining in overtime.

“I felt really when Rocco picked up the pass,” said Pirates head coach Scott Allen. “When he went for the long bomb and the way he handled that puck. I knew the right two guys were coming down from the blue line in overtime.”

Rau’s goal total now has him tied for second in the American Hockey League, and first among league rookies.

“He embodies what a hockey player should be,” said Allen. “The other night when he spilt blood and got a nice zipper from his nose to the bottom of his lip. That’s what he is. He gets involved in the hard areas. He’s gonna get banged up, need ice bags on his body after the game. He gets it.”

It was Allen’s second game behind the bench as head coach of the Pirates since taking for Tom Rowe who was promoted to Associate General Manager of the NHL parent club, Florida Panthers.

Allen is 2-0 as head coach of the Pirates, but winning has been standard procedure for the team, piling up the points in the AHL for much of the last month. The Pirates (18-12-1-0) have taken points in 12 of their last 14 games (11-2-1) to move into second place in the Atlantic Division based on percentage points.

“You never begin the season as an assistant coaching thinking about (taking over as head coach),” said Allen. “I couldn’t be happier for Tom Rowe. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy, with his background and his resume. He’s given me the ability the build on the foundation of the team, so it’s not a huge change for the team.”

AHL leading goal scorer Petr Straka only needed 15 seconds to put Lehigh Valley on the board, scoring off the opening faceoff as Sam Morin fed the puck to Tim Brent for an odd-man rush. Brent dished the puck to Straka for a quick shot past Pirates’ goalie Mike McKenna.

“When you go down 15 seconds into the game, that can be a scary thing,” said Allen. “I honestly didn’t have any fear because I know the guys in that locker room and what they’re capable of doing. It was a broken play and a defensive lapse by us that led to the goal. They answered back and scored a goal before the period was over.”

Portland would score the next three goals to take a 3-1 lead.

Rob Schremp tallied his 13th goal of the season, firing a slap shot from the right circle past Lehigh Valley netminder Anthony Stolarz at 10:46 of the first period.

With 2:58 remaining in the opening period, Stolarz (28 saves) was unable to freeze the puck on a shot from Wayne Simpson allowing Garrett Wilson to shovel the rebound into the net for a 2-1 Pirates lead.

Rau made it 3-1 with a laser beam from the left circle past Stolarz.

“We got three unanswered after giving up that goal,” said Rau. “We knew how much game was left. It wasn’t time to hit the panic button. We just needed to stick with the game plan.”

With less than four minutes left in the second period, Lehigh Valley battled back to tie the game, scoring a pair of goals within a 47-second span.

Mark Alt fired a slap shot from the right point that beat McKenna under the crossbar at 16:36 mark of the period, Aaron Palushaj, who finished a breakaway, snapping a wrist shot over the leg pad of McKenna, who finished with 29 saves.

“We had some bend, but we didn’t break,” said Allen. “That a credit to them. We knew what we were up against. That’s what good teams do. I really liked our response after giving up the quick goals.”

NOTES: The Panthers announced a new three-year contract extension for head coach Gerrard Gallant on Saturday. Gallant is in his second season as head coach of the Panthers. Gallant has led Florida to its most successful month in franchise history in December recording a 11-3-0 record and 22 points while setting a franchise record with an eight-game winning streak. The Panthers currently are second in the Atlantic Division, fourth in the Eastern Conference and own a 22-12-4 record (48 points). Gallant’s contract extension is the latest deal done by the Panthers as they extended General Manager Dale Tallon and promoted Pirates head coach Tom Rowe to Associate GM.

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