PORTLAND, Me. – It was a tough final two weeks of the season for the Connecticut Whale. The AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers had five games on the road to conclude the season.
They didn’t win a game. Three times, they lost by a goal. They coughed up the lead with 28 seconds remaining in the game in a one-goal loss to Springfield and with 4:59 left in a one-goal loss to Albany. They dropped an overtime decision to Adirondack in a game they surrendered a pair of shorthanded goals.
On Sunday, the Hershey Bears put the Whale out of their misery. They beat the Manchester Monarches, 4-2 to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the AHL’s Eastern Conference with 81 points.
Connecticut didn’t help themselves in their season finale on Saturday night with a 5-1 loss to Portland. The Whale gave up a goal just 6:59 into the game and trailed by three goals after one period. Connecticut (35-32-6-3) finished in second place behind Springfield in the Northeast Division but with 79 points, they were two points shy of earning a spot in the playoffs.
Connecticut’s playoff hopes flickered a bit on Sunday. The Whale could have snuck in with a win by Manchester and a win by Eastern Conference champion Providence over Norfolk in regulation. Norfolk tied the game at 3-3 with 57 seconds remaining but the Bruins won the game on Ryan Spooner’s goal with 39 seconds left to eliminate the Admirals.
Against Portland, Pirates forward Phil Lane scored his first career hat trick and Portland goalie Mike Lee made 31 saves in front of 6,085 fans at the Cumberland County Civic Center. It was the third straight win for the Pirates.
Portland (41-29-3-2) took a 1-0 lead just 6:59 into the game when defensemen Boris Valabik fired a shot from the point and Lane redirected it through the legs of Whale goalie Cam Talbot. Portland extended the lead to two when Troy Bodie was able to put home a rebound off a Brodeur slap shot with 3:23 left in the period.
Just 16 seconds later, Lane gave Portland a 3-0 lead beating Talbot with a backhand for his second goal of the game. After the goal Talbot (13 saves) was pulled in favor of Jason Missiaen with 3:07 left in the period.
Marek Hrivik got the Whale on the scoreboard at 9:07 of the second period, beating Lee on a shot from below the goal line on the right-wing side. Hrivik’s try went off of Lee’s skate and in, after a shot by Benn Ferriero had been tipped wide.
Portland restored the two-goal lead at 10:19 of the third period, though, when Whale defenseman Logan Pyett overskated the puck deep in his own zone, allowing Miele to jump on it and fire a close-in shot past Missiaen.
Lane completed his hat trick 2:49 later, at 13:08, when he poked a rebound in from the left side of the goalmouth, after Missiaen had stopped a Miele shot.
The Whale, who missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, finished 0-5-1 in its last six games of the year. Connecticut struggled at home early in the year going 5-10-1 in its first 16 games at the XL Center. But they played their way back into playoff contention by earning at least one point in 18 of its final 22 games, going 15-4-1-2.
Information from the Connecticut Whale, Portland Pirates and AHL.com used to compile this report.
Portland 5, Connecticut 1
Connecticut 0 1 0 – 1
Portland 3 0 2 – 5
1st Period: 1, Portland, Lane 12 (Valabik, Rundblad), 13:01. 2, Portland, Bodie 7 (Feser, Brodeur), 16:37. 3, Portland, Lane 13 (Miele, Brown), 16:53. Penalties-Collins Ct (boarding), 1:55; Haley Ct (fighting), 7:58; Clackson Por (fighting), 7:58; Miller Ct (slashing), 19:56.
2nd Period: 4, Connecticut, Hrivik 7 (Ferriero, Miller), 9:07. Penalties-Bickel Ct (fighting), 7:47; Louis Por (fighting), 7:47; Rundblad Por (holding), 16:17.
3rd Period: 5, Portland, Miele 19 (Bodie), 10:19. 6, Portland, Lane 14 (Miele, Shinnimin), 13:08. Penalties-Rundblad Por (hooking), 1:39.
Shots on Goal: Connecticut 7-17-8-32. Portland 16-11-12-39.
Power Play Opportunities-Connecticut 0 / 2; Portland 0 / 2.
Goalies: Connecticut, Talbot 25-28-1 (16 shots-13 saves); Missiaen 10-8-2 (23 shots-21 saves). Portland, Lee 9-5-0 (32 shots-31 saves).