The St. John’s IceCaps’ Jason Gregoire (50) checks the Portland Pirates Ryan Hollweg into the boards behind goaltender Curtis McElhinney Wednesday night during the teams’ AHL game at Mile One Centre in St. John’s. The Pirates scored four third period-goals on their way to a 5-2 win over the IceCaps. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Arrggh! is the buccaneer-inspired catch phrase for the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates.
Uggh! is one that befitted the St. John’s Ice Caps in a 5-2 loss to the Pirates Wednesday night at Mile One Centre.
St. John’s faltered badly in the third period Wednesday, with a fateful let-up that resulted in a big let-down for a crowd of 6,394, the largest-ever in the IceCaps’ brief six-game home history.
The IceCaps, who had beaten the Pirates 5-1 at Mile One Tuesday, held a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes in the rematch and looked poised for their first-ever two-game series sweep. But St. John’s was left to settle for a third straight split after the Pirates scored four unanswered goals in the final frame
“It’s really frustrating (when) you have a lead going into the third period and you can’t close it out,” said St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge, whose voice was a little hoarser than normal during the post-game media scrum.
“We go into the third and we go brain-dead. We have a bad change on the back-end. We put pucks into shinpads. We don’t find sticks in front of the net, and it gets out of reach.”
As expected, after a loss the night before, the Pirates came out strong to start Wednesday’s game, but the IceCaps mostly endured. Still, for a second straight game, the Pirates carried a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, this time on Aston Rome’s tally from a goal-mouth scramble with just over three minutes remaining in the opening period.
But the IceCaps dominated in the second, with a power-play tally by Shawn Weller, his first as an IceCap, and a go-ahead marker by Jason King. St. John’s outshot the visitors 14-4 in the period, with three of the four Pirates shots in the frame coming in its final minute.
At the time, Portland’s late-period push hinted a little of desperation, but it actually turned out to be a preview of what was coming in the third, which started badly for St. John’s, then progressively got worse.
Portland got a tying goal from centre Marc-Antoine Pouliot, the former Edmonton Oilers first-rounder, off yet another goal-mouth jumble in the frame’s opening minute.
That started a switch in momentum, but the big swing came five minutes later, immediately after the Pirates killed off an elbowing minor to Maxim Goncharov. The IceCaps meanwhile, were committing the double sin of a bad change on defence, plus a turnover. Goncharov stepped out of the penalty box and joined what turned out to be a three-on-two with Pouliot and Matt Beaudoin, who tapped a rebound, once again from the edge of the crease, past IceCaps goalie Peter Mannino.
“That one is a very tough one to swallow. We don’t get the puck deep into the offensive zone and they get a chance to go down untouched into our zone and guys are playing catch-up on the play,” said McCambridge.
“Those are ones where you have to manage the puck better (and) be more intelligent on the ice. For those shifts, we weren’t.”
The goal would turn out to be the game-winner as Kyle Chipchura provided insurance for the Pirates midway through the third, then added an empty-netter at 18:44.
As the Pirates celebrated the win, down the hall, in the home-team dressing room, players were left to figure out why two points were going to Maine and why the IceCaps had taken one foot off the gas pedal and another off their opponent’s neck.
“Good teams are the ones that dominate in the third period and put teams away, ones that have that killer instinct,” said St. John’s captain Jason Jaffray.
“It’s something we’re obviously still working on.”
Pouliot, who along with Beaudoin, had a goal and an assist, was the game’s second star. The IceCaps’ King, with his second goal in as many nights, plus a helper, got the nod as the third star, although he took little delight in the honour.
“It doesn’t mean anything when you lose games, especially when I was out there for a couple of goals (against) I wasn’t happy about,” said King, who may have been being a little hard on himself, given that one of his minuses was the Chipchura empty-netter.
The IceCaps finish up their six-game home stand with three wins, two defeats and an overtime setback, giving them an overall record of 5-2-1 as they get ready for a six-game, 11 day road swing through New England, beginning Saturday in Springfield.
As to whether Wednesday’s loss will result in any lineup shake-up, McCambridge says it’s something he’ll think about in the coming days.
“Some players I thought had strong outings. Some players I expected more from. I’ll watch the video some more. I may adjust things, but right now I can’t comment on it,” he said.
An hour after the game, McCambridge was mostly thinking about an opportunity wasted.
“Those are points you don’t want to (thinking about) in March when you’re relying on other teams to do you favours. Those are points that you don’t want to come back to haunt you.”
Notes: It was a good news, bad news day for veteran forward Tommy Maxwell, who was signed to and AHL contract by the IceCaps Wednesday and then assigned to the ECHL’s Colorado Eagles. Maxwell had been on St. John’s roster since the start of the season, but didn’t play a game. The move leaves 25 players — three goalies, eight defencemen and 14 forwards — with the IceCaps ... Problems with the computerized system used for the sale of 50-50 tickets at Mile One meant there was no 50-50 draw Wednesday ...Hockey Hall of Famer Michel Goulet, a pro scout for the Calgary Flames, took in the IceCaps-Pirates series. Goulet was just inducted into the QMJHL Hall of Fame ...