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Pens face must-win challenge

Down 3-2 to Portland, WBS needs victories today and Saturday to make AHL finals.

They’re out of wiggle room, but not out of optimism. Or, for that matter, the means to grab the two victories they’ll need in the next two games to get past the Portland Pirates and advance to the Calder Cup Finals series.

For the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the do-or-die effort commences tonight at the Wachovia Arena, when they’ll host the Pirates in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals set.

The Penguins trail the best of seven series, three game to two, after having dropped two of three games in Portland, Maine.

They have to win tonight to force a Game 7 encounter on Saturday night.

To do that, the Penguins will have to generate more scoring chances than they did in their 2-1 loss in Wednesday’s Game 5, then finish them.

“Both teams were battling hard, in their own end,” said Penguins Coach Todd Richards. “You spend so much time doing (that) trying to limit their opportunities. By the time you get in the offensive zone, you’re too tired to make a play.”

Richards said that the brisk pace of play set by Portland on Wednesday gave the Penguins too little time to get their own attack organized.

To remedy that, he said, his club will have to play smart and keep matters uncomplicated.

“Both teams really pursue pucks,” he said. “They’re a fast team and they skate. We take a lot of pride in defending. When you’ve got both teams pursuing pucks, you don’t have a lot of time in the offensive zone. Or get your head up and make those tape-to-tape passes. You try to keep it a little more simple.”

Right wing Jonathan Filewich said that to regain control of the series, the Pens have to grab control of the tempo and force Portland to react to them.

“Once we get our feet moving,” he said, “and create lanes for each other, it’s a whole different story. Because they’re not able to keep up as well.”

Just as keeping the Pirates off balance is crucial, so too is keeping high-scoring forwards Bobby Ryan and ex-Penguin Stephen Dixon away from the puck and out of WBS goalie John Curry’s way.

Ryan’s seven points (3g, 4a) lead all scorers in this series, and Dixon (3g, 1g) tallied both Portland goals Wednesday to help put his old mates in their difficult predicament.

“We have a better feeling going into Wilkes-Barre up a game,” Dixon said. “It would definitely be tough to go there and try to win two.”

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