It was inevitable, but it did not become official until this past weekend. The Providence Bruins are back in the Calder Cup Playoffs as the fourth seed in the Atlantic Division.
Led by Trent Frederic’s hat trick, the P-Bruins locked up their playoff spot with Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Springfield Thunderbirds. The win pushed the Providence point total to 87 and ended Lehigh Valley’s postseason hopes, despite ending its regular season with a five-game win streak.
The P-Bruins even had to bounce back from Friday’s loss to Lehigh Valley after their comeback bid from 4-0 down fell short. But Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s loss to Utica that same night eliminated them from postseason competition, thus giving Providence one less team to worry about in their playoff push.
Providence entered their remaining two games controlling their own destiny for that final playoff spot in the Atlantic. But they needed a bounce-back effort the next night in Springfield to officially punch their ticket to the playoffs.
“We need to get off to a better start,” Paul Carey, who finished with 33 points in 30 games with the P-Bruins since being acquired from Belleville, said after Friday’s loss. “Tonight we came out a little flat. If we come out in the first 10 minutes in tomorrow or Sunday’s game with energy, we’ll get the results we’re looking for.”
“I don’t think you say anything about it. You have to worry about the here and now,” head coach Jay Leach added. “We want to play a certain way and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
The P-Bruins spotted Springfield with a 1-0 and 2-1 lead Saturday. But persevered and found a way to win thanks to Frederic’s three-goal outing — all coming in the third period. Lee Stempniak added a tally of his own and Anton Blidh sealed Providence’s playoff-clinching victory with an empty netter. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson scored Providence’s lone goal in its 6-1 loss to Springfield the day after, thus concluding the regular season.
Things won’t be easy for the P-Bruins in their round 1 matchup against the Charlotte Checkers. This year’s MacGregor Kilpatrick trophy recipients (given to the top AHL team during the regular season) are near the top of the league in every major statistical category. The Checkers finished atop the league in penalty kill percentage (86.6), to go along with their third-ranked defense (189 goals against) and second-ranked offense (255 goals for. Their plus-66 goal differential also ranked second out of 31. Moreover, starting goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic led the AHL in goals against average at 2.26.
But the P-Bruins matchup fairly well with Charlotte is a team the P-Bruins matchup pretty well with. They went 4-3-1 in their eight matchups this season, with Frederic lighting up the Checkers with four goals. And they’ll have a reinforcement to start the series as top prospect Jack Studnicka — fresh of his OHL postseason run with Niagara — will make his professional hockey debut in Game 1.
The winner of this first-round matchup will face either Bridgeport or Hershey in Round 2.
“All four teams that advanced are good teams,” captain Jordan Szwarz, who led the P-Bruins in goals (23) and points (46) said. “We play in a tough division and if you look at our season series against all three teams, they’re pretty even. I like our chances against anybody.
The P-Bruins have the benefit of hosting the first two games on Saturday and Sunday thanks to AHL traveling rules. Charlotte will host the rest of the series beginning with Game 3 on Wednesday, April 24. Games 4 and 5 — if necessary — take place on Friday, April 26, and Saturday, April 27.
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