DESPERATE PIRATES FILET WHALE

Connecticut-Whale_thumb_thumb_thumb_      VERSUS      Portland

Bruce-Berlet_thumb1BY: Bruce Berlet

The Portland Pirates, involved in a wild, multi-team chase for the final Eastern Conference playoff spots, parlayed goals from four different players and 29 saves from Peter Mannino into a 4-1 victory Friday over the Whale at the XL Center.

“If there was a loose-puck race, more times than not, they came up with it,” Whale head coach Ken Gernander said. “I thought we had some poor decisions where we turned pucks over and paid the price. A couple of times we go to check, they move the puck and we don’t maintain our defensive position and allow them to get the rebound.”

The victory moved the Pirates (30-28-3-4) into a tie for 10th place with Worcester and Albany with 67 points, one behind Syracuse and Springfield, which each won Friday night and share the eighth and final playoff berth. Meanwhile, the Whale (33-22-5-5) saw their lead in the Northeast Division sliced to three points over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, who lost 3-2 in a shootout at Springfield. The Whale had been 14-5-1-0 in their previous 20 games and were an AHL-best 19-6-2-4 at home, including the three wins over the Pirates.

But the Pirates had the edge in every area Friday night, and coach Ray Edwards was especially pleased with the defensive effort after a tough 5-4 shootout loss five days earlier in which Portland rallied from a two-goal deficit, only to lose the lead on All-Star Jonathan Audy-Marchessault’s goal with 2:05 left in regulation.

“We played solid,” Edwards said. “We’re a team that’s desperate, and I thought we played with some desperation. We needed the points more than them. … You knew they were going to push, and we didn’t handle it every well, but we got through it and Mannino made a couple of good saves. Sunday we were game, but there were so many momentum shifts that at times we looked really good and at times looked really tired. I didn’t mind our game because we out-chanced them 16-14 and liked a lot of what we saw. The problem is that when you play three games in three days there’s a lot of mental mistakes. Tonight I thought we were way better defensively and gave us way less chances. When we did, Petie was there for us.”

Both teams had good chances early as Whale rookie wing Ryan Bourque hit the post at 1:42, Mannino made a good stop on Audy-Marchessault off a 2-on-1 at 3:39 after Pirates defenseman Tyler Eckford fell and Whale goalie Chad Johnson slid across to rob All-Star Brett Sterling on a one-timer from the left circle at 4:36.

But on an ensuing rush, the Pirates took a lead they would never relinquish. Ashton Rome’s shot from the left circle missed the net and caromed off the end boards to the right circle to Jordan Szwarz, whose centering pass/shot deflected off Whale defenseman Sam Klassen’s skate and was stopped by Johnson. But the rebound went directly into the slot to a wide-open Rome for easy finish into an open net for his ninth goal at 4:52.

Johnson (23 saves) then kept it close when he denied a wide-open Kenndal McArdle in front at 9:44 and got his right pad on All-Star Andy Miele’s close-in bid with 7:38 left in the period on the Pirates’ first power play.

But the Pirates broke open the game with two goals 73 seconds apart early in the second period. Sterling gave Portland a 2-0 lead when he stole the puck from Audy-Marchessault at the blueline, broke in alone and converted his own rebound at 7:09 for his 26th goal of the season, fourth in eight games since joining the Pirates on March 3.

Moments later, former New York Rangers prospect Ethan Werek dug the puck away from Whale defenseman Mike Vernace behind the net, circled into the right circle and fired a shot that hit defenseman Pavel Valentenko’s right elbow and beat Johnson to the far side at 8:22. It was Werek’s eighth goal of the season and fourth in three games.

Mannino was sharp to deny rookie Andrew Yogan weaving down the slot at 2:21 in his first game in his second go-around with the Whale. Then less than three minutes later, Pirates defenseman Mark Louis dove across to make the save of the game, stopping a wide-open Yogan with Mannino down and out of position.

“I thought I had a little more time,” Yogan said. “I should have bared down a little more.”

Given those reprieves, Alexandre Bolduc sealed the win when he scored his third goal of the season on a breakaway, beating Johnson between the legs at 9:32.

The Whale then got their first major break and ended Mannino’s shutout when Audy-Marchessault won a faceoff that Casey Wellman touched to Redden, whose slapshot from the left point deflected off Eckford’s stick and into the net for his third goal with 8:05 left.

But the Pirates weren’t to be denied on this night.

“Sometimes when bounces don’t go your way you got to find a way to get through that,” Redden said. “Tonight we didn’t do enough good things to get the win. There were some good times and a lot of poor times.

“We had times where we played in their zone, but we didn’t sustain it. We spent too much time in our end and were sloppy.”

YOGAN MAKES SEASON DEBUT WITH WHALE

Yogan made his season debut with the Whale, after he and defenseman Peter Ceresnak signed amateur tryout contracts with the Whale on Wednesday from the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes.

Yogan ended his junior career with a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” of four goals, one assist and a fight in an 8-6 victory over Oshawa and right wing Christian Thomas, the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2010 who had a goal and an assist. Yogan also was plus-4 and had a game-high seven shots, but since the Petes (27-34-3-4) had been beaten out of the final playoff spot in the last week of the season by Thomas and the Oshawa Generals, he and Ceresnak headed for Hartford, signed the ATO agreements and began practicing with the Whale on Wednesday. Thomas, meanwhile, had one goal Thursday night as Oshawa was routed 8-2 by top-seeded Niagara, led by four first-round draft picks, including Ryan Strome, selected fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 2011. Strome had one goal and two assists and the IceDogs were 5-for-8 on the power play as they amassed a 51-35 shot advantage. They took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with a 6-1 romp Friday night.

Yogan, a 20-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., was named OHL Player of the Week after getting four goals and four assists and being plus-4 in three games to finish March with 17 points in seven games. The Rangers’ fourth-round pick in 2010 finished the season with career highs in goals (41), assists (37) and points (78) and was plus-8 with 96 penalty minutes in 66 games to end a five-year OHL career with 96 goals, 90 assists and 287 penalty minutes in 240 games with the Windsor Spitfires, Erie Otters and Petes.

Yogan got several weeks of pro experience a year ago. After missing most of last season with an injury, the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Yogan had two goals and earned No. 1 star in his pro debut, a 4-3 loss to Bridgeport on April 9. He also had an assist in his other Whale appearance the next night, a 6-3 loss to Norfolk.

The 6-3, 209-pound Ceresnak, the Rangers’ sixth-round pick in 2011 from Trencin, Slovakia, had six goals, nine assists, 64 PIMs and was minus-1 in 61 games in his first junior season.

On Friday, the Whale signed right wing Steve Moses to an ATO. Moses, 22, of Leominster, Mass., tied for the team lead in scoring with the University of New Hampshire with a career-high 36 points, including a career-high 22 goals, in 37 games. Moses passed his physical Friday but was scratched, along with Ceresnak and injured wing Francois Bouchard.

TWO IN, TWO OUT FOR PIRATES

Right wing Brett MacLean (36 points) and defenseman Nathan Oystrick (31), the Pirates’ third- and sixth-leading scorers, returned to the lineup after missing one and five games, respectively, because of injuries. But the Pirates were without captain Dean Arsene (family matter), a former defenseman with the Hartford Wolf Pack, and right wing Ryan Duncan, who needed 45 stitches during 41/2 hours of surgery at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford to repair lacerations to his face after Wellman’s skate accidently grazed him early in overtime of a 5-4 shootout loss Sunday. Duncan, tied for fourth on the Pirates in scoring (32 points), skated with the team for the first time Friday morning since the incident but wasn’t ready to play.

“It was scary at first, but everybody did a great job here and made me feel comfortable,” Duncan said. “Once I found out that it wasn’t so serious, I got lucky and was pretty fortunate. It could have been a lot worse. I got a few stitches in there, which was the only painful part, but since then, it has been pretty painless and I’m on the road to recovery. My breathing is good, so there’s nothing bad except for the cut.”

Duncan hopes to play Saturday night when the Pirates visit Manchester, but he commended Wellman before leaving Hartford.

“Wellman texted me that night,” Duncan said. “That was very nice. He knows and I know that it was an accident, but that just shows what kind of guy he is, very classy. It made me feel good, and hopefully I eased his mind a little bit, too. He shouldn’t be worrying about it. It’s just an accident.”

The Pirates also scratched defensemen Maxim Goncharov (upper body) and Harrison Ruopp, centers Colin Long (concussion) and Justin Maylan, left wing Spencer Bennett and former Wolf Pack wing Ryan Hollweg (knee surgery). Ruopp, a third-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2011, and Maylan, a free agent and teammate of Ruopp with the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League, signed ATOs on Thursday.

On Friday, the Coyotes signed free-agent forward Scott Arnold to a two-year, entry-level contract. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Arnold had 10 goals, eight assists and 42 penalty minutes in 33 games with Niagara University of the Atlantic Hockey Association last season. Arnold, 21, a native of Pointe-Claire, Quebec, had 26 goals, 14 assists and 91 PIM in 67 games with the Purple Eagles and his sophomore year after battling and beating testicular cancer last summer. He’ll start with the Coyotes but could join the Pirates for the playoffs.

WHALE HOST PROVIDENCE SATURDAY NIGHT, AT BRIDGEPORT ON SUNDAY

The Whale ends a five-game homestand Saturday night when they host Providence before visiting Bridgeport on Sunday afternoon after a NCAA men’s hockey tournament regional is played at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard on Friday and Saturday.

The Whale are 3-2-0-1 against the Bruins, winning the first three meetings and losing the last three, and 4-2-2-1 against the Sound Tigers entering the final game of the GEICO Connecticut Cup season series. The Bruins (29-30-3-4), who beat visiting Manchester 5-2 Friday night, are a longshot for the playoffs with the next-to-worst record in the Eastern Conference and are without center/captain Trent Whitfield, recalled by the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. He was replaced by center Max Sauve, a nemesis for the Whale in the past.

The Sound Tigers (32-24-3-6) are in a 0-5-0-3 slide after a stunning 20-2-0-2 run that vaulted them from last to first in the division. … The Norfolk Admirals beat the visiting Albany Devils 2-1 to establish the longest winning streak in the AHL’s 76-year history with their 19th consecutive victory. They had shared the record with Syracuse, which won 15 in a row at the end of the 2007-08 season and three at the start of 2008-09. The Admirals’ 19-game streak is two better than the NHL record held by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

RANGERS LOSE GAME, ZUCCARELLO

Drew Stafford had two goals and an assists and Ryan Miller made 26 saves as the Buffalo Sabres beat the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers 4-1 Friday night. The loss prevented the Rangers from tying the St. Louis Blues for the NHL overall points lead with 101.

The Rangers also lost AHL All-Star wing Mats Zuccarello, who fractured his left wrist when hit by a shot in the first period and will be sidelined indefinitely. Zuccarello, recalled from the Whale on March 11, turned away from a shot by Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold and was struck at 8:48. After nudging the puck, he immediately skated to the bench with his left arm hanging limply at his side and gingerly climbed over the boards. Zuccarello had two goals in 10 games with the Rangers during two recalls.

On the positive side, Erixon, recalled from the Whale last week, got his first NHL point when he assisted on Brian Boyle’s goal that tied it at 1 at 9:32 of the second period. Henrik Lundqvist had 22 saves for the Rangers.

Bruce pulled double duty also filing the story for Portland in the Press Herald.

GAME SUMMARY and OFFICIAL SCORERS SHEET

STANDINGS:

(Conference)

1Capture

(Division)

Capture

(Standings provided by TheAHL.com)

SOUNDS OF THE GAME:

Ken Gernander: 

Wade Redden: 

Andrew Yogan: 

Chad Johnson: 

VIDEO:

Game Highlights:

Ken Gernander Post-Game Press Conference:

Ken Gernander post game press conference

NOTES:

* Our most heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery to Mats Zuccarello. Here’s hoping that “The Norwegian Hobbit” can make a speedy recovery and be a part of the Rangers post season playoffs.

LINES:

Grant – Tessier –Audy-Marchessault
Wellman – Newbury – Deveaux
Bourque – Owens –  Tanski
Prough – Yogan – Thuresson

REDDEN – Nightingale
Valentenko – Vernace
Bell – Klassen

Johnson
Talbot

(Captain in CAPS / Assistant Captains are Italicized)

SCRATCHES:

Francois Bouchard – Broken Wrist – Indefinite
Chad Kolarik – Knee – (Can’t Play Due To Roster Issue)
Peter Ceresnak – Healthy Scratch
Sean Avery – Healthy Scratch
Steve Moses – Healthy Scratch

THREE STARS:

1. POR – P. Mannino
2. POR – B. Sterling
3. CT – W. Redden

ON ICE OFFICIALS:

Referee:
Chris Brown (86)

Linesmen:
Kevin Redding (16)
Derek Wahl (46)

NEXT GAME:

The Whale have now dropped two straight and need to get back on the stick, pardon the pun. The Providence Bruins return to the XL Center before the Whale head to Bridgeport for a crucial battle on Sunday afternoon. You can hear all the action Saturday with Bob Crawford and Garry Swain in the booth and Mark Bailey ice-side on WCCC.com starting at 6:50pm.

To watch the game live, you can purchased it for $6.99 at AHL-live.

For Ticket information for all home games, call (860) 548-2000.

Too far away or can’t make it? Listen live at WCCC.com or from your cell phone or computer you can get all the live action via our Twitter page:@HowlingsToday for all games both home and away.

SCORE SHEET:

Portland Pirates 4 at Connecticut Whale 1 – Status: Final
Friday, March 23, 2012 – XL Center Veterans Memorial Coliseum

Portland            1 2 1 – 4
Connecticut  0 0 1 – 1

1st Period-1, Portland, Rome 9 (Szwarz), 4:52. Penalties-Audy-Marchessault Ct (slashing), 10:25; Oystrick Por (high-sticking), 16:31.

2nd Period-2, Portland, Sterling 26   7:09. 3, Portland, Werek 8 (MacLean, Rundblad), 8:22. Penalties-Sterling Por (interference), 9:03.

3rd Period-4, Portland, Bolduc 3   9:32. 5, Connecticut, Redden 3 (Wellman, Audy-Marchessault), 11:55 (PP). Penalties-Bolduc Por (interference), 5:36; Louis Por (roughing, roughing), 8:27; Klassen Ct (boarding, roughing), 8:27; Oystrick Por (interference), 11:50.

Shots on Goal-Portland 11-8-8-27. Connecticut 9-10-11-30.
Power Play Opportunities-Portland 0 / 1; Connecticut 1 / 4.
Goalies-Portland, Mannino 7-7-1 (30 shots-29 saves). Connecticut, Johnson 21-15-5 (27 shots-23 saves).
A-3,467
Referees-Chris Brown (86).
Linesmen-Kevin Redding (16), Derek Wahl (46).

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