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2014 Sports Blog of the Year
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A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins
They say that revenge is a dish best served cold.
For the Providence Bruins, what the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins did to them last May was nothing short of historical. The Bruins, at the time the Eastern Conference Champions and regular season champions, were the first team in AHL history to lose a 3-0 series lead and lose Game 7 at home. The Penguins stormed back from being down 3-0 to the Bruins and outscored them 14-2 in Games 4 through 7 including a 5-0 whitewash in the decisive Game 7.
The Bruins did all they could to close out the Penguins in six games, but backstopped by the heroic 46 save performance by then goaltender Brad Thiessen and done in by Trevor Smith’s wraparound overtime game winning goal at 3:36 in overtime, it was not to be.
The Bruins are out for revenge.
There are only eight players on that doomed Providence squad that will return to the scene where their season ended, the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Bruins didn’t come close to their 105 point season they put up a year ago, Providence finished with a record of 40-25-2-9 good for 91 points and third place in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins needed the last weekend of the AHL season to make it into the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The Bruins dispatched the Northeast Division Champion Springfield Falcons in five games. The Bruins were down 2-1 in the series with the Falcons, and used a pair of 6-3 victories in Games 4 and 5 to complete the comeback and pull of the upset against Springfield.
The Penguins played the Bruins four times this season. They split a weekend series with the Bruins by identical 5-1 scores in January and lost in a 4-3 shootout in February and 2-1 regulation loss in March at home in Wilkes-Barre.
Providence is led by rookies Seth Griffith and Alexander Khokhlachev, who paced the Bruins with a combined 107 points. Griffith has 6 points in the Calder Cup Playoffs and is joined by fellow teammates Matt Fraser and Ryan Spooner in the Top 10 in postseason scoring.
The Penguins, on the other hand, are paced by veterans Chuck Kobasew and Andrew Ebbett in scoring in the postseason.
The Bruins used youth to their advantage to rally and dispatch a 100 point Springfield team in five games. The Penguins, on the other hand, used experience to oust a young Binghamton Senators team that beat the Penguins in all facets during the regular season and won the East Division Championship by four points over the Penguins.
It is your prototypical “old lion vs. new lion” matchup. Will the new lion continue to outpace the old lion or will the old lion use its experience to oust the new kids in town? Read on.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – Series “J” (best-of-7)
6-W-B/Scranton Penguins vs. 7-Providence Bruins
Game 1 – Fri., May 9 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 2 – Sat., May 10 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 3 – Wed., May 14 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 7:05
Game 4 – Fri., May 16 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sat., May 17 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 7:05
*Game 6 – Mon., May 19 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 7 – Wed., May 21 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
* – if necessary
Outside of the aforementioned Griffith and Khokhlachev, the Bruins top point getters are LW Craig Cunningham, C Ryan Spooner and RW Nick Johnson. Cunningham (47 points) Spooner (46) and ex-Penguin Johnson (42) are a nice combination to supplement the pace set by rookies Griffith and Khokhlachev. The Penguins are led by their captain, Tom Kostopoulos, with Nick Drazenovic, Andrew Ebbett and Harry Zolnierczyk part of the supporting cast. The Ace in the Hole is Chuck Kobasew, who scored at over a point a game pace since clearing waivers and being assigned to Wilkes-Barre late in the season.
Playoffs has seen the same familiar names at the top of both clubs lists.
Advantage: Push. Two arguments can be made here, the youth of the Bruins and the experience of the Penguins, but in this type of comparison they both cancel each other out. Who takes hold of the advantage in the early stages of the series will define the outcome in all likelihood.
The Bruins are led by offensive defensemen David Warsofsky and ex-Penguin Joe Morrow. The names Scott Harrington, Simon Despres, Philip Samuelsson and Scott Harrington need no introduction to fans of the Penguins.
The Penguins led the AHL in defense, limiting opponents to 2.43 goals per game. The Bruins were balanced this season and were 11th in defense and 11th in offense.
When it comes to blueline depth, the Penguins are the ones that tip the advantage in this category their way. The collective team effort of being the stingiest team in the AHL throughout a 76 game grind coupled with dependable names such as Reid McNeill and Barry Goers and you have a defense corps that you can feel good about going into a seven game series.
The P-Bruins used both Nik Svedberg and Malcom Subban this season pretty regularly and that spilled over into playoffs with both appearing in multiple games in their first round matchup against Springfield. Both carry the pedigree that would tell you that someday, both will be manning an NHL crease in the future. The Penguins have Peter Mannino, whose NHL ship may have sailed, but still remains a solid AHL netminder winning Goaltender of the Month in March. Wilkes-Barre cannot turn to Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, who was ruled out for the remainder of the season and won’t turn to Eric Hartzell, whose confidence was shaken after winning the Goaltender of the Month Award in January and 19 year old Matt Murray would be a last resort for Hynes & Company.
You don’t even have to look at past numbers or anything like that. The advantage in this category is Providence’s based on depth at backup alone.
Starting with coaching, there is no way that John Hynes gets outcoached by Bruce Cassidy. Hynes’ group conducted the masterful comeback last year by at one point breaking down every single shift in one of the games. The Penguins have the advantage in coaching….Neither team has been spectacular on special teams this postseason, although the Penguins penalty killing unit did a masterful job in Games 3 and 4 of the Binghamton series in shutting down the dangerous Senators power play. Providence was slightly better on the power play in the regular season but average on the penalty kill. Depending on scenarios, whoever takes hold of this category could be ahead early as the series wears on. Push.
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For the Penguins…
For the P-Bruins…
Penguins in six. Experience wins out. This isn’t a five game series, this is seven. Coaching, defense and veteran savvy from the likes of Kobasew, Kostopoulos and Ebbett win this series for the Penguins and they advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
But again, they don’t play these games in cyberspace or on paper. The Gameday Setup for Game 1 vs. Providence will hit the blog Friday at 3 p.m.