GLENDALE – The Portland Pirates, who served as the Coyotes’ top affiliate for a fourth and final season in 2014-15, qualified for the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Playoffs in dramatic fashion on Sunday – the final day of the regular season.
"Everyone is excited," Pirates General Manager/Head Coach Ray Edwards said Monday. "It’s been a tough stretch. We recently lost eight games in a row against tough teams. It wasn’t as if we were playing horrible hockey, we were actually playing good hockey, but we weren’t finding ways to win. So, going into the weekend there was definitely some pressure and the guys were able to get it done."
Trailing Worcester 4-2 after 40 minutes on Sunday, forward Henrik Samuelsson scored twice in the third period and captain Alex Bolduc netted the game-winning goal with 43 seconds left, and the Pirates clinched the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 5-4 victory.
"He’s produced for us really nice over the second half of the season," Edwards said of Samuelsson, a first-round draft pick in 2012 whom Coyotes fans saw during two short stints with Arizona this season. "Those were huge goals by him in a big game. This guy is not afraid of big games. We saw him thrive at last year’s Memorial Cup. He’s not afraid of the moment and he certainly wasn’t on Sunday."
The Pirates will play top-seeded Manchester – the AHL team for the Los Angeles Kings – in the first round of the conference playoffs. The best-of-five series begins Thursday at Manchester.
Portland will begin the playoffs minus forward Jordan Martinook (lower-body injury) and forward Justin Hodgman (upper-body injury).
Bolduc led the Pirates in scoring this season with 52 points (23 goals, 29 assists) in 62 games.
Coyotes prospects Christian Dvorak and Laurent Dauphin recently joined the Pirates after the conclusion of their junior hockey seasons/careers. Dauphin has notched one goal (on Saturday) in four games and Dvorak has notched a goal and an assist (both on Sunday) in two games.
"It’s definitely a small sample size but it’s hard to argue that they didn’t have an impact this weekend," Edwards said. "They both helped us get to the playoffs."
Manchester posted the best record (50-17-6-3) in the AHL this season, including a 9-2-0-1 mark vs. Portland. The past three games between the teams, however, all were one-goal wins for Manchester.
"We know we can play with them, we’re just going to have to be at our best," Edwards said.