Sometimes the better team doesn’t win. As unfair as that is, it is just the harsh truth.
Just ask the Providence Bruins on Thursday night. Despite outshooting the Hershey Bears 40-15 through 67:14 of playing time, the P-Bruins wound up on the wrong side of a 2-1 overtime loss at home, giving up both goals on the power-play to Chris Bourque, a former Bruin, and, of course, son of Hall-of-Famer Ray. The Hershey win puts them in control of the Atlantic Division Finals, taking a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 tonight at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Chris Casto got Providence on the board first at 8:47 of the opening stanza after walking in from the blue-line and firing a shot past Hershey netminder Phoenix Copley. Tommy Cross and Danton Heinen tallied the assists.
For much of the next three periods, the P-Bruins dominated with their best defense being their offense, keeping the puck in Hershey’s zone and keeping the Bears on their heels for most of the game. Whenever Hershey entered the Providence zone, the Baby B’s would have enough layers in front of Zane McIntyre. When Hershey broke through on those rare occasions, McIntyre was there to make the saves.
But they could not get anything past Copley, who stood on his head making 39 saves. It didn’t help that Providence went 0-for-6 on the power-play, where on several occasions, it appeared they passed up a good scoring chance and make the extra – and unnecessary – pass that would be broken up. This allowed Hershey to climb back.
At the beginning of the third, Casto was whistled for hooking at 0:54. Enter Chris Bourque. Just 48 seconds into the power-play, Bourque, whose younger brother Ryan also plays for Hershey, picked up a rebound and chipped it past McIntyre for the equalizer goal at 1:42.
The P-Bruins kept pushing on, eventually getting rewarded with three more power-play opportunities in the third. But Providence continued to shoot themselves in the foot. With the Bears’ Liam O’Brien in the box for hooking, Providence was caught with too many men, nullifying the power-play. Providence was able to draw hooking and slashing penalties on Riley Barber and Zach Sill at 10:25 and 16:39, respectively, but couldn’t capitalize on the golden opportunity, sending the contest into overtime for the second straight game.
The extra frame was more of the same for Providence. Jordan Szwarz had a decent attempt early on a wrap-around chance. The puck deflected straight up in the air and looked as if it could bounce behind Copley. But Copley plucked it out of mid-air before any damage could be done. Later in the period, Colby Cave blocked a clearing attempt near the Hershey blue-line and went in practically alone, aside from a trailing Travis Boyd, who hauled down Cave and was called for holding at 4:04. But once again, Providence could not generate much offensively and Hershey got yet another timely kill.
Things only got worse. Colton Hargrove was called for tripping at 6:26 after having two golden chances stopped in front of Copley. That set up Bourque’s heroics as he ripped a nasty wrist shot over McIntyre’s left shoulder on the short side at 7:14 of overtime, thus burning the organization that his legendary father was a big part of for 21 seasons.
“It’s disappointing, but not discouraging,” Providence coach Kevin Dean said about the tough Game 3 loss. “If we play that same game, we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Dean was quick to point out the glaring problem of Providence’s lack of production with the man advantage, now at 0-for 11 in the series. “Our power-play has to be better, it’s that simple,” Dean said. “It’s way underperforming right now and it’s got to be better.”
Providence forward Austin Czarnik voiced his agreement on how much the power-play needs to improve, as well as how they can finish games.
“We have to finish,” Czarnik said. “We’ve had the lead every single game, the first game [Hershey] started coming back on us but we still won, the second game they came back and beat us and the exact same thing happened tonight. We have to be able to close out games. Tonight, special teams wasn’t good enough for us.”
“We have to be a little bit harder,” Czarnik added about Providence’s ability to finish their scoring chances. “Our game has been great these last three games, and we’re doing the right things every single day, and we just have to get on the inside and win battles.”
Providence’s effort in Game 3 was certainly there, and the scoresheet showed what should have been a lopsided victory in their favor. A similar effort in Game 4 on Friday night could very well tie the series and shift the momentum back to Czarnik, Dean and the rest of the P-Bruins.