Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates gain valuable points

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Hartford Wolf Pack at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 2/5/2016. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Hartford Wolf Pack at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 2/5/2016. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

It wasn’t a must-win game mathematically for the Portland Pirates, but they certainly didn’t want to ignore its significance.

Wade Megan finished with two goals, and Mike McKenna made 43 saves for the Pirates en route to 4-1 victory over the Hartford Wolf Pack before 5,810 at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

The Pirates (37-25-5-2) have won six of their last seven games, and taken points in eight of their last nine games for 81 points with seven games remaining in the regular season. Portland has a four-point lead over the Wolf Pack for the final playoff berth in the AHL’s Eastern Conference, but only trail the Providence Bruins and Bridgeport Sound Tigers by two points for third place in the Atlantic Division.

Portland will face the Bruins in a home-and-home series next weekend, and the Sound Tigers for the final time in the regular season on Apr. 15 at the Cross Insurance Arena.

The Pirates only need 21 seconds to get on the scoreboard with the game’s first goal as Brett Regner tallied an unassisted goal off a turnover on the opening faceoff.

“Sometimes when you score early like that guys can sometimes take it for granted,” said Pirates coach Scott Allen. “I think we had a little bit of that, but we settled in. The first period certainly wasn’t our best. The second period we started playing our game.”

The Wolf Pack bounced back and held the better of the play for the majority of the first two periods. The Pirates weathered the storm with help from McKenna who kept up his solid play, stopping 17 shots in the first period, 15 shots in the second period to keep the Wolf Pack off the scoreboard.

McKenna’s shutout streak of 116 minutes; 27 seconds would come to an end 2:58 into the third period when Cristoval Nieves won the faceoff in the right faceoff circle to Dan Paille for a one-timer past the Pirates netminder.

“He came up big for us,” said Allen. “He made the saves we needed him to make at the key times. We’ve seen him do that countless times this year.”

Ryan Graves collided with his goaltender Magnus Hellberg in the closing minutes of the second period, leaving the netminder down for several minutes, but he stayed in the game after talking with the team trainer.

The Pirates would take advantage by scoring a pair of goals within a 14-second span in the final two minutes of the second period to build a 3-0 lead going into the locker room, gaining some valuable breathing room.

Megan picked up a loose puck rebound in front of Wolf Pack goaltender Magnus Hellberg, beating him between the legs at 18:38 of the second period. Logan Shaw, assigned to Portland by the NHL parent club, Florida Panthers on Friday, recorded an assist on the play despite the fact he was a game-time decision due to illness.

With 1:08 left in the period, Hellberg dumped the puck into the corner. Rob Flick was able to dig it out and throw back toward the front of the net where Brett Olson was alone in front of Hellberg (24 saves) for his 11th goal of the season. Zac Lynch was credited with his first career professional point with an assist on the play.

“The whole series began with our strong net drive,” said Allen. “We had a great scoring opportunity prior to that. It was such a strong net drive that their own defender, trying to get back, ran his own goalie over so Hellberg was a little bit rattled. We told the bench that if he stayed in we have to attack him right now.

Megan added an empty net goal 33 seconds left in regulation.

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