Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates eliminated from AHL postseason

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Hershey Bears at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 10/17/2015. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

Portland Pirates regular season contest against the Hershey Bears at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine on 10/17/2015. (PHOTO: Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

The season has come to an end for the Portland Pirates.

Ryan Stanton scored the game-winning goal for the Hershey Bears Sunday as they earned a 2-1 victory over the Pirates in Game 5 of the Atlantic Division semifinal before 6,329 at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The Bears take the best-of-five series, 3-2, and will now move on to face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the second round of the American Hockey League Calder Cup playoffs, starting Wednesday in Hershey.

“I know in the NHL they claim the first round is always the hardest,” said Bears coach Troy Mann. “Our division was pretty strong this year, only eight points separated us from Portland. It was a six-team battle for a good chunk of the season. There were no easy games in our division. We knew that if we got Providence or Portland, it was going to be a tough first round.”

Hershey improves to 20-19 in decisive games, including 14-4 on home ice while the Pirates drop to 1-8 in winner-take-all games. The last time Portland claimed a decisive game was 1996 when they defeated the Saint John’s Flames 4-3 in the best-of-seven series to advance to the Calder Cup Finals against the Rochester Americans. Portland would fall in the finals in seven games.

Portland last faced the Bears in a winner-take-all game back on May 30, 2006, where the Eric Fehr scored in overtime to clinch Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

It was a valiant effort by the Pirates, but they’ll head into the season wondering “what if” after missing out on two opportunities to close out Bears after winning Game 3 in triple overtime to take a 2-1 series lead.

“It’s always the most disappointing time of the year for me when the season ends,” said Pirates coach Scott Allen. “Very disappointed, but I will say this. The guys competed tonight. If we had played this way last night, who knows we might not have needed to go to a Game 5.”

After a poor Game 4 performance, Allen shook up lines in hopes of finding a spark that might generate some offense. While the Pirates had several quality scoring opportunities, Bears’ goalie Justin Peters stood tall in net keeping the visiting team at bay with 23 saves.

Since getting the start in Game 2, Peters has only allowed four goals over a span of 283 minutes; 10 seconds, which includes a shutout streak that last 102 minutes; 51 seconds.

The lone goal for the Pirates came less than three minutes into the third period when Mike Matheson ripped a shot from the point that was tipped by Wayne Simpson on its way toward the net, beating Peters.

“Peters was outstanding. He lives and breathes the game of hockey He just does everything right. For him to have his moments of struggles during the regular season and start of the bench watching (Ellis), he came in and shut the door.”

“We’ve scored one goal against (Peters) in the last six periods of hockey. He’s got a goals against (0.85) and save percentage (.966) that ridiculous. Tops in the American League.”

McKenna has been equally up to the task over the series, keeping the Pirates in games with spectacular save after spectacular save. It was fact not lost on the Bears’ coach as he called McKenna “Portland’s best player.” Game 5 was no different, stopping 21 of 23 shots.

“Let’s not take away anything from Mike McKenna,” said Allen. “He was outstanding for us.”

“I thought McKenna was their best player. I thought the series went as long as it did because of him.”

The Pirates had early momentum, but for the fourth time in the series, Hershey opened the scoring with a goal 14:19 into the first period as Liam O’Brien corralled the puck behind the net after it hit referee Terry Koharski’s skate and dished it to Sean Collins rushing the slot for a shot over McKenna’s shoulder.

The Bears made it 2-0 on a goal by Ryan Stanton, which proved to be the game-winning goal at the 9:29 mark of the second period.

Jakub Vrana and Ryan Bourque had a two-on-one break into the offensive zone with Vrana dropping a pass to Stanton, trailing the play for a slap shot, beating McKenna.

Allen, still smarting from the playoff exit, said it was early to begin putting letter grades on players, but overall he was very pleased with how the Pirates performed in their first year as the Florida Panthers AHL affiliate.

“It’s a little early (to look back), but I will say that I’m extremely proud of this group,” he said. “We had our ups and downs throughout the year. We found a way to make the playoffs. We found a way to take a team to a decisive game. We found a way to keep guys moving in the pipeline and help the Florida Panthers secure an Atlantic Division Regular Season crown. We had a lot of guys go up (to Florida) and do extremely well.”

“It was a good group of guys, and that’s what I’m going to miss most about this team.”

As for himself, the time for self-evaluation will come in due time.

“That will happen in a few weeks when I jump on my Harley-Davidson and take some time to myself and reflect.”

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