An old friend of the Portland Pirates' put a refreshing new twist on a recent trend for the Providence Bruins in the closing half of a home-and-home series Friday night.
P-Bruins captain Trent Whitfield, who played 348 games for Portland between 1998 and 2005, returned to his old haunt at the Cumberland County Civic Center on Wednesday. His return to the active Providence lineup after a two-month injury-induced absence was marred by his new team spilling another one-goal decision.
It was the P-Bruins’ third loss in a span of five games, each of those failings seeing them spill an initial lead and allow the clinching goal within the final five minutes of regulation. The other two were against Worcester on Dec. 21 and Dec. 29.
When the venues made a switch on Friday, Whitfield saw to it that the roles did, too. With 4:19 left in regulation, and more than two periods after his penalty-killing unit had yielded a 2-1 deficit, the captain finalized a 3-2 victory before a delighted Dunkin Donuts Center congregation of 8,932.
The Bruins were shorthanded nearly one-fifth of the game—for 11 minutes and 46 seconds. But they found stability after letting the Pirates convert each of their first two power plays, both partially on Whitfield’s watch.
Each of the game’s first three whistles were accompanied by a fresh entry on the scoresheet. After the contesting parties traded a fleeting threat in each other’s zones, Jamie Tardif’s collection of a Portland rebound gave his starting line an odd-man rush, which culminated in Chris Bourque’s icebreaker at 0:36.
On the next play, however, Providence went on the penalty kill―Christian Hanson whistled for tripping at 1:02―and authorized an equalizer via the Portland power-play brigade with a mere 1:33 gone.
Moments later, the same pattern was repeated as grizzled Bruins blueliner Garnet Exelby took a citation for roughing at 6:32 and helplessly watched Brendan Shinnimin tuck home the go-ahead conversion at 7:03.
The primary helper was Spooner’s second of the night and fifth in the first four installments of the Portland season series. Adding those two assists to his goal in Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss up in Maine, the rookie has three points in his first two games back from a two-week absence.
Knight Duels with Gladiators
Jared Knight, Spooner’s fellow first-year pro who has been out of AHL action since mid-October, was reassigned to the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays this week to replenish his game shape. He debuted in the Double-A circuit Friday and led the Stingrays with six of their 24 shots on goal as part of a 3-2 loss to the host Gwinnett Gladiators.
Tyler Randell, who was sent down along with Knight, assisted on Chris Langkow’s second unanswered goal to momentarily give South Carolina the lead at 7:56 of the middle frame. That advantage, however, evaporated in a little less than five minutes and the tables permanently turned.
In other ECHL news, Rob Murray, Bruce Cassidy’s predecessor as the P-Bruins head coach, was tabbed to guide the league’s All-Star team against the Colorado Eagles at the midseason showcase later this month. Murray’s Alaska Aces entered Friday’s action with a league-best .765 winning percentage.
Junior, College Highlights
After fighting Kurtis Gabriel in the first minute of action, Payne augmented the Plymouth Whalers’ lead over the Owen Sound Attack to 3-0 with an unassisted strike with 4:45 remaining in the second period. With that, Payne became the eighth Whaler to break double digits in the goal column this season.
Owen Sound ultimately deleted its deficit, but Payne’s Whalers dramatically and permanently restored their lead to 4-3 with 13 seconds to spare in regulation.
Ben Sexton was less fortunate with his Clarkson Golden Knights, who let a 1-0 lead devolve into a 2-1 loss to UMass-Lowell. Still, on a personal level, Sexton had an encouraging first game after being out of action since Nov. 17, tallying the primary assist on Andrew Himelson’s icebreaker at 3:55 of the opening frame.
Alex Fallstrom made the secondary setup on each of Harvard’s two goals to help force overtime at Princeton, though that rally went for naught when the Tigers’ Andrew Calof completed his hat trick and single-handedly beat the Crimson, 3-2.
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