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Binghamton strikes first in Atlantic Division final

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Zack Smith ended a long scoring drought with his third-period goal, which lifted the B-Sens to a series-opening victory on the road over the Portland Pirates (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

This time, the Binghamton Senators needed only 60 minutes to get the job done.

Zack Smith's third-period goal stood up as the winner as the B-Sens edged the Portland Pirates 3-2 on Wednesday night at Cumberland County Civic Center in Maine. The result gave Binghamton a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven American Hockey League Atlantic Division final.

Smith's goal was his first since Jan. 13.

"It's been a while," Smith, who spent much of the final two months of the season with the parent Ottawa Senators, told reporters afterward. "Having not scored all last series, it was nice to get the monkey off the back."

Binghamton head coach Kurt Kleinendorst called it a goal that was well-earned.

"Anyone who hasn't been through (a slump) may not understand the pressures that come with something like that," he said. "Even though your team is having success, these guys are all proud and they feel they're not contributing if they're not scoring. For (Smith), it's the result of the way he played. That's about as good as I've seen him play, so what's the reward? You score a goal. That's the way it works."

For the B-Sens, it was the first time in these Calder Cup playoffs that they secured a victory in regulation. All four Binghamton wins in its opening-round conquest of the Manchester Monarchs required overtime, only the second time in AHL history that had occurred. The B-Sens also became the first team in league history to win Game 5, 6 and 7 of a series in OT.

No such extra work was required in the opener against the Pirates. Smith snapped a 2-2 tie with his first goal of the post-season at the 7:35 mark of the third period. Binghamton goaltender Robin Lehner made it stand up, stopping 33-of-35 shots he faced to push his playoff record to 4-0-0.

"That feels pretty good," B-Sens forward Ryan Potulny said about not needing overtime. "It's an odd occurrence for us lately but at the end there, guys played great, we stepped up and beared down and won little battles. And our goaltending was good again."

Added Smith: "We played a lot of hockey in the last round. We had talked about it going into this round, that hopefully we could finish some games within three periods. It was definitely nice that we could get a rest (from OT)."

The homestanding Pirates only led once during the night, when Maxime Legault opened the scoring 4:27 after the opening whistle. That edge held up until the second period, when Ryan Keller, with his fourth of the playoffs, and Bobby Butler, with his fifth, scored goals 1:01 apart to put the B-Sens in front 2-1.

Colin Stuart pulled the Pirates back even at 17:14 of the second, setting the stage for Smith's game-winner. Smith also earned an assist on Keller's goal for a two-point night, while Potulny and Andre Benoit each picked up a pair of helpers. Potulny leads all AHL playoff scorers with eight goals and 16 points, while Keller (4-7-11) ranks in a tie for third with Manchester's Bud Holloway.

The B-Sens finished with a 43-35 edge in shots on goal, including 34-24 over the final 40 minutes. Their finish sat well with Kleinendorst.

"We talked about being ready and how hard it is to be ready after an emotional series," he said. "I don't think we can really say we were ready for the first 10 minutes. We were sloppy and we were flat but once we got it going ... I don't think you could find a passenger on the bench. Everyone was pulling together.

"The second goal, I think Robin would be the first to admit it wasn't a great goal. But it didn't matter. We just kept going and guys just absorbed it and went on and did what we had to do to win a game."

Game 2 in the series is set for Thursday night in Portland (7 p.m., Team 1200,

Cowen, Chiefs fall behind in WHL series

At Spokane, Wash., Senators prospect Jared Cowen scored a goal and added an assist, but it wasn't enough to keep the host Chiefs from dropping a 3-2 overtime decision to the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League playoffs on Wednesday night.

Brendan Leipsic's goal 7:44 into OT gave the Winterhawks the win and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference final, which resumes Friday night in Spokane.

Also Wednesday, the Kootenay Ice rolled past the Medicine Hat Tigers 7-2 to complete a sweep of the Eastern Conference final, ending the Memorial Cup hopes of captain Wacey Hamilton, a recent Sens free-agent signing.

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