P-Bruins Season Swept Away
The Providence Bruins began their 2015-2016 season back on October 9 with a 2-1 home overtime defeat at the hands of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Last night, their season ended in almost similar fashion. Jake Guentzal– who opened the scoring just 35 seconds into the game and also had two assists– ended the game and series 13:52 into the second overtime as the WBS Penguins completed the sweep of the Bruins in their first round best-of-five Calder Cup Playoff series.
All three of the Penguins’ wins in the series came in overtime, with WBS winning on Wednesday and Thursday night respectively. The Penguins’ win came after they had blown a 4-1 third-period lead and had been out-shot 63-37 during the course of the game. Blown leads and overtimes were pretty much the theme of the entire series as Providence fought back from an 0-2 hole in Game 1, but then blew a 2-0 lead in Game 2, only to see the Pens win in overtime on both occasions.
With elimination staring them right in the face, the Bruins hit the ice in front of a raucous Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowd in the first of what the Bruins hoped were three more home games. Tensions were high and the heavy hits began immediately after puck drop. However, almost as soon as the Providence crowd started getting warmed up, Guentzal sucked the air right of the building as he picked up a blocked Steve Olesky shot and fired it by Zane McIntyre to put the Penguins up 1-0. Not long after giving up the first goal, Providence was presented with a power play at 2:44 when Jean-Sebastien Dea was sent off for tripping.
However, the Bruins power-play, which finished the season ranked number one in the entire American Hockey League, completely fizzled out, recording no shots and ended with less that a minute to go in Dea’s penalty as Seth Griffith was called for high-sticking. Providence was able to kill off Griffin’s penalty and record their first shot of the game almost five minutes into the first. Unfortunately for Providence, things would only get worse. With Max Talbot in the box for high-sticking, Dominik Simon would a get a piece of Guentzal’s shot from the point and redirect it past McIntyre to put WBS up 2-0.
The hole would get even deeper for Providence at the start of the second. Noel Acciari was called for tripping at 5:24 and the Penguins made him pay for it as Dea’s shot from the blue line beat McIntyre low glove side just 12 seconds into the power play. Now things started to really look bleak for the Bruins. But as they had done almost all season, they would not quit. The Bruins would generate numerous opportunities in front with Frank Vatrano getting two good chances and Talbot nearly stuffing one in on a wrap-around. Each time, Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith was equal to the task. The Bruins also got a good pick-up when Colby Cave dropped the gloves with Will O’Neil during an after-the-whistle scrum (and there were a lot of those during the game) at 7:57.
Providence kept buzzing around the net and finally broke through at 13:39. Alexander Kokhlachev picked Up Tommy Cross’ shot that just missed wide and scooted along the near-side boards. He found a wide-open Austin Czarnik inside the faceoff circle to DeSmith’s right. Czarnik’s one-timer beat DeSmith glove-side and gave the Bruins a much-needed goal and a huge boost of energy. Carrying the momentum and with the crowd noise starting to resemble that of the Garden, the Bruins fought to get within one.
But once again, that momentum was dashed as Tim Erixon fired a one-timer past McIntyre with 18:28 left to play in the second. Facing a three-goal deficit again, The Bruins were blessed with yet another power-play as Will O’Neil went off for delay of the game towards the end of the period. Providence did get some goods looks, including a beautiful set up in front to Vatrano, but DeSmith made a terrific glove save to preserve the lead. Providence outshot WBS 17-5 in the second, but found themselves now down three.
“Most of the talk was done after the first period, we tried to get the guys we relied on to get going,” Coach Bruce Cassidy would say after the game, “After the second, [the focus was on what] Max Talbot said during the timeout, we may not win we may not lose, but we have to compete, and off we went.” Compete is exactly what the Bruins did. Needing a spark, Cassidy pulled McIntyre for Jeremy Smith, who started the first two games. Chris Breen got Providence within two early in the final frame with a laser from the point that beat DeSmith low glove side. A little more than three minutes later, and after being frustrated all night on the power-play, Tommy Cross’ shot broke through to bring the Bruins within one.
Needing just one more goal to tie with plenty of time left, Providence kept fighting and trading chances with the Penguins. That tying goal came with 3:59 remaining on Austin Czarnik’s second goal of the game. Once again, it was Khokhlachev feeding with a cross ice pass in the offensive zone and Czarnik’s one-timer beat DeSmith. The period ended with Providence outshooting WBS 20-6 in the period and 45-19 overall. “Guys were feeling good about themselves,” Cassidy said about the locker room atmosphere after the comeback, “it was the best period of hockey of the three games, and they deserved to feel that way.”
After a relatively quiet first overtime, the Bruins found themselves facing some more adversity. With Khokhlachev and DeFazio both off, Providence killed off a 5-on-3 to save their season. Opportunities were traded back and forth, until Tom Kostopoulos sent Guentzal in on the breakaway that ended Providence’s season.
Despite the disappointing ending, Providence players were proud of the way they fought back and certainly look forward to returning next year. “My goal every year is to win a championship,” Vatrano said, “Obviously that didn’t happen this year up in Boston or [Providence], but there’s always next year and [next year] I’m going to come back even harder.”
“I just have to get stronger” Brandon Carlo said, “as a hockey player, there’s always room to get stronger in the legs, upper body strength and core are important too.”
In between the season-opening and season-ending overtime losses to the Penguins, the Bruins were the definition of resilient. From starting the year towards the bottom of the Atlantic Division, to overcoming injuries to Ben Sexton and Malcolm Subban; to coming within three points of the Division-winning Hershey Bears to coming back from a three-goal third period deficit, the Providence undoubtedly have a lot to look forward in the coming years.