P-Bruins shoot past WBS Penguins; face Hershey in division finals
A year ago, a loaded Providence Bruins team saw their season come to a screeching halt.
After rallying from a 4-1 deficit, the Bruins, already down 0-2 in the best-of-five series thanks to two overtime defeats, came out flying to extend the series with some home overtime magic of their own. It wasn’t meant to be. Jake Guentzel, who opened the scoring 35 seconds into the contest, snapped home his third goal of the series on a two-on-one break 13:52 into the second overtime to complete a surprising three-game sweep of Providence.
Fast forward to the end of April and oh how the tables have turned. Providence, who came in as the fourth seed in the Atlantic Division, found a way to exact revenge on top-seeded Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, defeating the Penguins in five games to advance to the Division Finals.
It took just one game for some demons from the 2016 postseason to be exorcised, as the Baby B’s scratched out a 2-1 home win on April 21. Jake Debrusk opened the game with his first career playoff goal on the power-play at 12:11, with Matt Grzelcyk and Peter Mueller tallying the assists.
The Penguins evened things up in the second, as Jean-Sebastien Dea would find the back of the net towards the back end of the middle frame, knotting things up at 1-1. But in the third, Providence finally got the puck luck that eluded them last year, as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was whistled for too many men at 4:36, effectively ending a power-play of their own after Ryan Fitzgerald was called for hooking a mere 90 seconds earlier. With 24 seconds remaining on the power-play, Danton Heinen cashed in to put the Bruins in the lead for good with help from Peter Cehlarik and Wayne Simpson.
The desperate Pens tried valiantly to even the score, but Zane McIntyre closed the door, finishing with 30 saves on 31 shots on the night as Providence took a 1-0 series lead. Things would get testy at the end of the game as, with three seconds remaining, a post-whistle scrum would result in four players, Providence’s Colby Cave and Jordan Szwarz and WBS’s Josh Archibald and Oskar Sundqvist all being sent off for Unsportsmanlike Conduct and Providence’s Rob O’Gara and WBS’s Tom Kostopoulos to each get two minutes for cross-checking and roughing, respectively. The scrum would set the tone for a relatively chippy series.
Game 2 on April 23 would be a near mirror-image of last year’s Game 3 as the P-Bruins fell behind by three, only to see themselves climb back before falling in the extra session. After a scoreless first period, ex-Providence Bruin David Warsofsky burned his former club by potting two in the early stages of the second and assisting on Tom Sestito’s goal at the midway-point to put the Penguins ahead 3-0.
Chris Porter and the P-Bruins did not roll over, however. Porter scored twice to cut WBS’ lead to 3-2 and captain Tommy Cross tied the game at 3-3 at the end of the second period.
The Pens regained the led less than four minutes into the third as Josh Archibald slammed one past McIntyre for the 4-3 advantage. But, once again, the P-Bruins fought back, and, once again, it was Heinen on the power-play to tie the game at 4-4 at 7:38. Then, at 12:48, Peter Mueller gave Providence the lead, putting one past Casey DeSmith. Cross and Cave both earned their second points on the night, picking up the assists.
From that point, it looked as if Providence was going to completely flip the script on WBS and take the first two games of this series. Archibald had other ideas. With just 1:03 remaining in regulation, Archibald potted his second of the period and pulled the Penguins even as the teams skated into overtime. In sudden-death, the Penguins got another good bounce as Derrick Pouliot netted the game-winner at 7:49, evening up the series at 1-1.
With the series now shifted back to Wilkes-Barre for the remaining three games, each team came out gunning for the “W” and put their opponent on the brink. In a complete-180 from Game 1, it was the Penguins who used two power-play goals to sneak away with a 2-1 victory on April 27.
With the game scoreless through the first period and the majority of the second, Tyler Randall was called for high sticking at 18:04. This led to Tim Erixon’s first goal of the playoffs to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Early in the third, after an Alex Grant holding penalty just 31 seconds into the frame, Warsofsky cashed in his third goal of the series to place Providence in a two-goal deficit.
Jordan Szwarz would cut the deficit to one on a double-minor power-play from Cave and Heinen, but that was all Providence could muster as, despite outshooting WBS 33-32 in the game and 16-6 in the third, Providence fell 2-1 in the game and the series.
Entering Game 4 the following night with their backs against the wall, Providence did what they have done all series, come out swinging. And come out swinging they did as the P-Bruins jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead thanks to goals from Wayne Simpson (1:55), Colton Hargrove (a power play tally at 9:01 with assists from Heinen and Szwarz) and DeBrusk at 19:15 (with Austin Czarnik assisting).
At 14:09, Debrusk netted his second of the game to make it 4-0, with Tommy Cross and Sean Kuraly, Boston’s hero from Game 5 in Ottawa, tallying the assists. The Penguins cut the deficit to two thanks to goals from Teddy Blueger at 17:48 of the second and Ethan Prow at 9:10 of the third, but McIntyre closed the door the rest of the way to finish with 27 saves as Providence took Game 4, 4-2, and force a deciding Game 5.
The fifth and final game was a fitting end to an already dramatic series. In yet another nail-biter, Heinen netted both goals, Szwarz assisted on both tallies and Zane McIntyre stopped an impressive 50, yes 50, shots as the P-Bruins hung on for a miraculous 2-1 win to advance to the Division Finals.
With the big club in Boston now on hiatus until September, it would be wise hockey-starved fans in New England to check out Boston’s future just down the road in Providence. With all the hype around Boston’s prospects, a deep Calder Cup playoff run would create even more of a buzz for the Black and Gold, and fans can be there first-hand to witness it.
Providence opens up the Atlantic Division Finals against the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Hershey Bears for the first two games of the series on Saturday and Sunday in Hershey. The series moves to the Dunkin Donuts Center for Games 3, 4 and 5 on May 11, 12 and 14 (if necessary). If the series goes to a sixth and/or seventh game, Hershey will host the P-Bruins on May 16 and 17.