Boy it seems like a whole offseason has gone by, hasn’t it?
The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins advanced to the second round last week via a sweep of the Binghamton Senators. The regular season champion Providence Bruins advanced to the second round after winning in five games over the Hershey Bears after being down 0-2, making them the tenth team in AHL history to attain that feat. Impressive.
So the Penguins were 0-1-1 vs. the P-Bruins in the regular season. There really isn’t much to breakdown in head-to-head on this series. Jonathan had a blurb about it yesterday. That may be the one unknown here in that these teams, despite being in the Eastern Conference, really don’t square off against each other as often as say, Albany, Adirondack, Worcester or Portland.
The P-Bruins boast young forwards who can put up points. You better get to know Ryan Spooner, Carter Camper, Craig Cunningham and Jamie Tardif who alone make up for 82 of the total 222 regular season goals scored by the P-Bruins (nearly 37%!)
One more thing about the P-Bruins. It’s where all the successful ex-Hershey Bears who have won Calder Cups have gone. Chris Bourque and Graham Mink have rings from the Bears championship runs. Christian Hanson played for the Bears last year.
Goaltender Niklas Svedberg won Goalie of the Year this season. He’s going to be a tough nut to crack.
This is a Big Bear Machine.
While I paint a grave picture, the task ahead is not insurmountable. Here is the breakdown:
Providence’s top three scorers are the aforementioned Spooner, Cunningham and Camper who are collectively 52-98-150. Tardif scored 30 goals for them, too. The Penguins top three scorers are Chad Kolarik (31-37-68) Trevor Smith (23-31-54) and Riley Holzapfel (21-30-51) who are collectively 75-98-173. Spooner, Cunningham and Camper did this mostly against weaker divisional opponents within the Atlantic and the Northeast, who only saw Springfield make playoffs. Kolarik and company did this against elite competition in the East Division on a nightly basis.
Providence ranked right behind the Penguins in total goals allowed in the regular season (the Penguins league leading 2.34 GAA / game vs. Providence’s 2.41 GAA / game) – no matter how you cut it in this series, the defensive units are similar. However, Providence allowed Hershey to score seventeen goals in the first round series and are 12th in GAA (3.4 GA/gm) in the playoffs. The Penguins currently rank fourth, tops amongst Eastern Conference teams.
Advantage: Based on regular season, push. Based on playoffs, Penguins.
Make no bones about it. We could easily see this series go seven, with five games decided in OT, with the series going 1-0, 2-1, 2-0, 3-2, 1-0, 3-1, 2-1. It may boil down to which goaltender blinks first. Svedberg was outstanding for the P-Bruins all season long, boasting an insane 37-8-2 record with four shutouts, a 2.17 GAA with a 0.925 SV% that garnered him Goaltender of the Year honors. Jeff Zatkoff put up a 26-20 record with five clean sheets, a league leading 1.93 GAA and a 0.920 SV%. Who is blinking? Will Zatkoff’s playoff experience win out? Will Svedberg continue to put up video game numbers? Until that question is answered, it’s a….
Providence had the eighth ranked power play in the regular season, the Penguins finished with the 22nd best power play. Having gunners like Bourque, Cunningham and a power forward in Mink on the man advantage is a huge asset. The power play is what brought the P-Bruins back from an 0-2 hole and you could say won them the series, as timely power play goals by the Bruins doomed the Bears.
The Penguins had the best penalty kill for pretty much the entire season. Providence had the fifth best penalty kill probably due to in large part the stout defense employed by the P-Bruins all season long. It’s a push here.
Bruce Cassidy piloted the P-Bruins from obscurity last year to a regular season championship this season. John Hynes has the Penguins in the second round of the playoffs for the third straight year. At this point in the season, I don’t think one coach will outfox the other. You almost want to give Hynes the advantage by default just because the Pens swept the B-Sens last round but on the same hand, Cassidy and his P-Bruins completed a “reverse sweep” of the Bears by winning Games 3, 4, and 5. Push.
Social Media Coverage:
For the Penguins:
Radio: @MikeOBrienWBS // @TGracePens
Fan Blogger: @nafsnep
For the P-Bruins:
I see a lot of comparisons between last years second round series against St. John’s in this series vs. Providence. What doomed the Penguins in that series and really in all series that the Penguins bowed out in the past eleven consecutive seasons of playoff heartbreak was finish. Chad Kolarik is a finisher. How many overtime game winners does he have? A lot. Trevor Smith is a finisher. Don’t believe him? He’ll show you his Calder Cup ring from last year. Derek Nesbitt wasn’t brought over here to live in Wilkes-Barre for a month. Equally, Chris Bourque has terrorized AHL opponents for all of his career. Graham Mink will show you his Calder Cup rings. Christian Hanson is a big body. Carter Camper and Craig Cunningham will be playing in Boston soon. That all said, I like my damn chances with the Penguins in this series.
Prediction: Penguins in six. Using lessons learned in the series against the Bears, the Penguins will put the Bruins on the brink and put them away, something the Bears weren’t able to do in three straight tries.
Gameday for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals will be up here on the blog at 3 p.m.