With the Providence Bruins up 2-0 in the second period of Saturday night’s Game 2, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms did what they had done all season, and what had led them to victory in Game 1 on Friday: score quickly to turn the game around. When Mark Friedman and Mike Vecchione found net 71 seconds apart to even the game up, the situation began to look like that of the previous night.
But Providence wasn’t going to let the comeback happen again. Peter Cehlarik bagged his first two career playoff goals — including the eventual game-winner halfway through the third on the power-play — and Austin Czarnik and Paul Postma each had two assists to lead Providence to a 5-3 victory in front of 4,583 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, evening their first-round series with the Phantoms at one game apiece.
Not only did the P-Bruins come out strong, they looked inspired, recording the first four shots on goal of the game. They didn’t take long to be rewarded for their efforts, as Anton Blidh found the back of the net off help from Zach Senyshyn to give the Baby B’s a 1-0 lead just 2:07 in. After blocking a clear out attempt in the near corner, Senyshyn whipped the puck out front to a waiting Blidh. The latter then fired a shot past Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon for his first of the postseason.
Just 3:01 later, Cehlarik netted his first of two. Picking up a loose puck after Kenny Agostino’s cross-ice pass in the Lehigh Valley zone was deflected, the second-year Slovak went in practically alone and ripped his shot past Lyon to give Providence a two-goal cushion; Postma also assisting.
However, as seen on Friday night, Lehigh Valley wasn’t ready to go away — and it would be the power play that got them going. After Providence’s Chris Breen was called for slashing, Lehigh Valley began to tilt the ice in their favor, outshooting the P-Bruins 6-2 over the remainder of the first period. Fortunately for Providence, all-star goaltender Jordan Binnington stood tall and twice robbed Corban Knight out front with his left pad during the power play to help keep the 2-0 lead intact.
The second period was like watching a replay of Game 1. Another questionable penalty came against Providence, this time a kneeing infraction on Tommy Cross after what looked like a solid, physical defensive play on Chris Conner. That kickstarted the Lehigh Valley rally. Daniel Martel, one of Friday’s villains, hit Mark Friedman with a pass from below the goal line; Friedman buried his first of the playoffs to cut the home team’s lead in half at 9:46.
The Phantoms struck again just 1:01 later when Saugus native Mike Vecchione tapped home a rebound past Binnington to even things up at 2-2.
Lehigh Valley continued to control the pace of play for an additional four-minute stretch, but Providence held off the Phantoms’ attack and even garnered a man-up opportunity of their own. The man-up situation led to a great Kenny Agostino chance in front, but the winger’s backhander trickled just wide. From that point on, the Baby B’s finished the period strong, eventually outshooting the Phantoms 12-9 in the frame. However, they would go into the intermission down a man when Blidh was called for delay of game with just 0.2 left.
“It’s definitely deflating,” Jordan Szwarz said on giving up two quick goals, “but you have to give them [the Phantoms] credit. They’re a good offensive team. The mindset then is to not let it get to us…and get a couple bounce back shifts to get the momentum back in our favor.”
Bounce back they did, and lo and behold, Szwarz himself who got the ball rolling with his shorthanded goal just 19 seconds into the final stanza.
And as Szwarz said, Providence had a couple shifts to get the momentum going. With 10:04 left to play, Cehlarik restored the P-Bruins’ two goal lead, taking a pass from Trent Frederic at the near boards and beating Lyon from a sharp angle for his second of the contest.
Still, Lehigh Valley would not go away. With 4:51 left, Greg Carey fired a snap shot past Binnington on a feed from AHL MVP Phil Varone to have the lead to 4-3.
The Providence defense and goaltending, however, stifled the vaunted Lehigh Valley offense for the remainder of the game. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson later iced the contest on an empty-netter with 1:33 remaining, thanks in large part to another nice play by Czarnik along the near wall.
“That was a must-win,” said head coach Jay Leach. “[Lehigh Valley] is an older group. They know what they’re doing and they put pressure, and I thought guys [the P-Bruins] bent but didn’t break. It’s a huge win for us, especially for our younger guys to go through something like that.”
With the series essentially now a best-of-three heading back to Pennsylvania, the P-Bruins’ focus remains the same: keep doing what they’ve been doing. No surprise, given Providence has been the better team in each of the first two games.
“We’ve been playing pretty good hockey here,” Szwarz said. “Obviously, they’re a good team there, so I think if we can get some pucks behind them and grind down their D-men we’ll be successful.”
That success might come without forward Chris Porter, who rolled his right ankle after taking a hit from Philippe Myers in the first period. Porter’s status is unknown heading into Friday’s Game 3 at Lehigh Valley.
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