Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates down Falcons in season-finale; will face Hershey in opening round of playoffs

(PHOTO: Michael Mcsweeney/Portland Pirates

(PHOTO: Michael Mcsweeney/Portland Pirates

The Portland Pirates wanted to head into the upcoming American Hockey League Calder Cup playoffs with some momentum on their side.

They also wanted to avoid facing the league’s top-seeded Toronto Marlies in the opening round.

Mission Accomplished.

Matt MacKenzie and Sena Acolatse scored third-period goals for the Pirates, giving them a 3-1 victory over the Springfield Falcons in their regular season finale at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.

“I thought we needed that,” said Pirates coach Scott Allen. “We didn’t want to rely on anybody else to get the job done for us. We did what we needed to do.”

The Pirates (41-27-6-2) end the regular season fourth in the Atlantic Division standings with 90 points. They took points in 13 of their final 16 regular season games and finished with 41 victories, reaching the 40-win plateau for the first time since 2012-13.

“It’s a long season of ups-and-downs,” said Allen. To have 41 wins this year, to finish with 90 points, 14 games over .500, it’s a credit to the staff that I have the pleasure to work with on a daily basis. It’s a credit to the players, and it’s a credit to the Florida Panthers organization.”

With the victory, the Pirates will face the Hershey Bears in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, beginning with Game 1 on Friday at 7 pm at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Game 2 will be Saturday at the CIA (7 pm) in Portland before shifting to the Giant Center for Game 3 on Thurs., Apr. 28 at 7 pm. Game 4 and 5 will also be at the Giant Center in Hershey if necessary.

Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 22 vs. Hershey (7pm)
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 23 vs. Hershey (7pm)
Game 3 – Thurs., Apr. 28 @ Hershey (7pm)
Game 4 – Sat., Apr. 30 @ Hershey (7pm) *
Game 5 – Sun., May 1 @ Hershey (5pm) *

*if necessary

Portland met Hershey four time during the regular season, all before Thanksgiving with the Pirates winning both games at the CIA on the opening weekend of the season while Hershey returned the favor, winning its two games at the Giant Center.

“There will be a lot of video,” Allen said. “There is a lot of work that has to be done between now and Friday. We’re certainly not afraid to work. We’re going to do our due diligence and get everything we need to get our players prepared.”

The last time the Pirates and Bears met in a playoff series was 2005-06 Eastern Conference Finals where both teams battled in an epic seven-game series with the Bears taking Game 7 at home in overtime on an Eric Fehr slap shot past Portland goaltender Jani Hurme.

The 2,679 in attendance at the game Sunday were potentially seeing the Falcons play in Springfield for the final time in franchise history. Media reports in both Arizona and Springfield have indicated that the NHL parent club, Arizona Coyotes, are close to purchasing the franchise with the intent on relocating it to Tucson, Arizona for the 2017-18 season.

The Falcons had a year to forget as only one of two teams in the AHL with a win percentage (.395) less than .400 while posting a 26-42-3-5 record in the first season as the Coyotes’ top minor league affiliate.

With the game scoreless for two periods, Matt MacKenzie struck first for the Pirates 4:28 into the third period with a slap shot from the left point, beating Falcons’ goalie Adin Hill through a screen for a 1-0 Portland lead.

The Pirates doubled the lead, 2-0, with a power-play goal from Sena Acolatse, ripping a hard shot from the top of the left circle, beating Hill between the legs at 9:52 of the third period.

It was Portland’s first power play goal after going 2-for-27 (7.4%) in the previous five games.

“We wanted to finish (the regular season) on a positive note in as many areas as you can, including our penalty kill.”

The Pirates penalty kill was a perfect five-for-five on the night.

Hill, who made his second straight start, finished with 36 saves in the loss.

The lone Falcons’ goal came less than two minutes later when Craig Cunningham picked up the loose puck from close range and chipped a shot into net past Pirates’ starter Mike McKenna, cutting the Pirates lead, 2-1.

McKenna made 36 saves on 37 shots for his 33rd win of the season, setting a new career best for wins in a season.

Connor Brickley added an empty-net goal with 22 seconds left in the period to seal the victory for Portland.

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