AHL Calder Cup: Pirates swept out of playoffs by defending champs

Chad Johnson made 41 saves in the losing effort for the Portland Pirates. - USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in the series, the Portland Pirates could not hold a two-goal lead. Ray Edwards' team had a 3-1 lead with six minutes to play before losing 4-3 in overtime.

Portland, ME -- Ondrej Palat scored the game-tying goal and game-winning goal as the Syracuse Crunch ended Portland's season Thursday night in the first round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. Portland was swept in the best-of-five series, blowing two-goal leads in the first and third games.

Facing elimination, the Pirates never really got into the game. "It was like some of our guys were just standing around in awe of how good [Syracuse] was," said Edwards. However, the Pirates did have the lead after 20 minutes of play.

Portland struck first with 4:03 remaining in the first period when Andy Miele, the Pirates leading point-getter in the regular season, buried a shot from the left side. On a shortened power play the Pirates were transitioning up ice when Chris Brown fed Alexandre Bolduc who skated into the middle of the slot before sliding the puck over to Miele who lifted it in to the top of the net for the 1-0 lead.

Syracuse evened the score 6:57 into the second period on a power play tally that took just three seconds of the man advantage. Center Dan Sexton drew the puck back to Matt Taormina who slid it across to Radko Gudas, and Gudas then blasted a one-timer past Pirates goalie Chad Johnson.

Alexandre Bolduc got the home team back in front 19 seconds into the third period on a wraparound goal. The former St. Louis draft pick came out from behind the net and slid it underneath Crunch goaltender Cendrick Desjardins. Chris Brown and Lucas Lessio picked up the helpers.

Portland took a two-goal lead midway through the third period when Nick Johnson tipped in a heavy shot from the point by Michael Stone. Chris Connor passed the puck to Stone from the right half wall as he was setting up the power play.

Mike Angelidis found a bouncing puck in the slot and wristed it past Johnson to cut the lead in half with just over six minutes to play in regulation. J.T. Wyman and Mark Barberio were credited with the assists.

The Crunch forced the game into overtime when Ondrej Palat beat Johnson from just outside the crease with 1:12 to go in regulation. The score came after a significant flurry in the Pirate zone with the net empty for Syracuse. Brett Connolly and Andrej Sustr picked up the helpers for the Crunch.

"It's tough to have a two-goal lead with six minutes to play and we can't close it out," said Edwards. "Syracuse is very good at pushing when they need to push. They're very good at finding a way to get things done," the first-year coach added.

With the game seemingly headed for a second overtime, Palat snapped a shot above Pirates goalie Chad Johnson's shoulder with just 16.2 seconds to play in the first overtime session. Matt Taormina set the play up with a nice breakout pass to Tyler Johnson who led Palat going down the right side. Palat had seven shots on goal in the contest.

The goal came after several good chances for the Pirates, including a partial breakaway and a backhand chance from point blank by Alexandre Bolduc with 46 seconds to play in overtime. "I thought the overtime period was our best of the night," said Pirates coach Ray Edwards.

Both coaches talked about the desire to dictate the tempo going into the game. Even with the Pirates leading by two, the speed and aggressiveness of Syracuse stood out. "We want to play fast too, but [Syracuse] is a tough team to play fast against. They're a fast team and they dictated the pace," said Edwards.

"It's not easy for our fans, but I think we learned a lot this year. It's important for an organization to grow and for our young guys to learn," said Edwards on his team's season as a whole.

Syracuse is one step closer to defending its Calder Cup Trophy. The Crunch will have to wait for other results in the Eastern Conference before knowing their second round opponent.

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