Maine Hockey Journal

Sound Tigers get late goal to down Pirates; clinch playoff berth

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 4/15/2016. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 4/15/2016. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

PORTLAND – Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ forward Bracken Kearns scored with under a minute to play in regulation, snapping a two-all tie for a 3-2 win over the Portland Pirates in their regular-season home finale Friday night in front of 3,317 at the Cross Insurance Arena.

The Sound Tigers (40-27-4-3) clinched the final postseason berth in the AHL’s Eastern Conference with the win, eliminating the Hartford Wolf Pack, who earned a 4-1 win over the St. John’s IceCaps earlier in the evening.

Kearns tallied the game-winning goal with 42 seconds left in the third period, beating Pirates’ goaltender Mike McKenna on a breakaway with a backhand shot upstairs after Dylan Olsen turned the puck over near the Pirates’ bench.

Trailing by a goal, 2-1, Bridgeport found the equalizer with six minutes left in regulation. Matt Finn took a pass from Connor Jones behind the net and ripped a slap shot from the left circle by McKenna.

“I thought the first period we eased into it,” said Pirates head coach Scott Allen. “I thought it took us time to get going. For the second and third period, I thought we were good except for the last six minutes. It’s tough to fall behind.”

McKenna, who was named the most valuable player and most popular player for the Pirates, finished with 31 saves on 34 shots. The 33-year-old goaltender has played three seasons for the Pirates under three separate affiliations. He posted 13 straight wins, setting the record for consecutive victories and recently set the record for most victories by a goaltender in a Pirates uniform with 83 wins.

Despite the loss, the Pirates (40-27-5-2) remain in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with two games left in the regular season. Both the Pirates and Sound Tigers have 87 points on the season, but the Pirates currently hold the tiebreaker – regulation and overtime victories – between the two teams.

After more than 30 minutes of scoreless hockey, Pirates forward Tony Turgeon was called for holding, sending the Sound Tigers to the power play. While Turgeon was skating the box, Pirates assistant captain Brett Olson argued the call with referee Evgeny Romasko which resulted in Portland going down two men to the Sound Tigers, giving them a full two minute five-on-three power play opportunity.

With 43 seconds left on the two-man advantage, James Wright blasted a booming slap shot from the right point under the crossbar with 8:42 to play in the second period for the game’s first goal.

“Terrible five-on-three call, but it is what it is. What we tried to do was use that as a learning experience because we know that’s going to happen in the playoffs. You can’t get rattled by that stuff. You can’t get caught up in it.”

Portland would get the equalizer only 57 seconds into the third period when Connor Brickley drove wide of a Sound Tigers defenseman and snapped a shot shortside on of the Bridgeport netminder for his 11th goal of the season.

Less than four minutes later, Brett Olsen gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead after the found the loose puck during a scrum in the crease area, pushing it across the line before Stephon Williams could cover the puck for a whistle.

The play would be reviewed by the referee, and confirmed by video replay.

Portland missed an opportunity to clinch home ice advantage in the first round with the loss. Portland can still finish as the third, fourth or fifth seed in the division. The fifth place seed would cross over to the North Division and play the Albany Devils in the best-of-five opening round series of the Calder Cup playoffs.

“We’re still battling positioning in the standings,” said Allen. “We’re still battling for who we’re going to play in the first round. We’re not looking to mail in any games at all.”

NOTES: Jack Button Award goes to Mike Matheson as the top NHL prospect for the Florida Panthers. Button was highly regarded scout in the Washington Capitals organization when they were affiliated with the Pirates for their first three years of existences. Unsung Hero Award went to Wayne Simpson, who began the season on a professional tryout contract. In 66 games, he has eight goals, 27 assists for 35 points with a plus-19 rating. Wade Megan was named the Player’s Player by his teammates and received the Tom Ebright Award for his on-and-off ice contributions. Megan surpassed recently named Pirates Hall of Fame inductee Trent Whitfield with a franchise record six shorthanded goals.

Juho Lammikko was signed to a three-year entry-level contract on Friday by the Florida Panthers. Lammikko, 6-foot-2, 207-pounds, joins the Pirates on an amateur tryout agreement from the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. He’s 22 goals, 33 assists for 55 points in 59 regular season games with Kingston in 2015-16. Lammikko won a Gold Medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship with Finland…. The Panthers also signed Lawson Crouse, who is Florida’s first round pick (11th overall) in 2015, to an ATO with the Pirates. Crouse, 6-foot-4, 212-pounds, appeared in 49 regular season games with the Frontenacs, scoring 23 goals, 39 assists for 62 points.

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