These two, again?
It seems that in recent times, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins and Providence Bruins have a collision course set for the middle of April and always meet up in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Who could forget the seven game classic against the Bruins a few years back when the Penguins were down 0-3 in the series and stormed back to win in seven? Who could forget last years sweep of the Bruins by the underrated Penguins who many, including myself, picked to lose the series against Providence?
This year is different. Instead of coasting into the playoffs as a three seed, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins come into the Calder Cup Playoffs as a favorite to win it all if not the clear favorite. The Penguins pretty much led the AHL from start to finish as the league’s overall top team.
But none of that matters now, as what you did in the regular season doesn’t matter in a short playoff series because all that matters is the team that you are battling for the right to advance to the Atlantic Division Finals where either the Lehigh Valley Phantoms or Hershey Bears await.
So let’s take a look at how these two match up…
Atlantic Division Semifinals – Series “A” (best-of-5)
A1-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. A4-Providence Bruins
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 21 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 7:05
Game 2 – Sun., Apr. 23 – W-B/Scranton at Providence, 3:05
Game 3 – Thu., Apr. 27 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 4 – Fri., Apr. 28 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sun., Apr. 30 – Providence at W-B/Scranton, 3:05
*if necessary… All times Eastern
Last year Providence had four players that had 55 points or more. This year, they have Jordan Szwarz who paced the Bruins with 54 points. Rookies Jake DeBrusk (49) and Danton Heinen (44) join Wayne Simpson (49) at the top of the leaderboard for points scored for the Bruins. The Penguins were led by ageless captain Tom Kostopoulos who put up 54 points at age 38. Oskar Sundqvist, Dominik Simon and Kevin Porter clock in with 46 points each. With both teams at the top of the AHL in defense which I will get to in the next category, offense isn’t too heavily relied upon to win games because the defense is more than capable of stealing games against opponents with far inferior defensive units.
Advantage: Slight edge to the Penguins, only because they ranked higher than the Bruins in scoring at 3.25 goals / game than Providence, who comes in at 3.01.
Both teams finished at the top of the AHL in defense, with the Penguins coming in first at 2.24 goals per game and the Bruins coming in second at 2.47. Each team has an offensive defenseman in David Warsofsky for the Penguins with 47 points, second on the team and Alex Grant for the Bruins with 49 points, good for third on the Bruins in scoring.
So you essentially have two teams identical in the way that they play defensively with one offensive horse.
Even if you peel more of the onion skin off, you find Derrick Pouliot’s 23 points second to Warsofsky’s and the currently recalled Tommy Cross’ 35 and Matt Grzelcyk’s 32 points as the next on the list in the offensive category for the Bruins and Penguins defense.
Both teams scored 16 goals on the other in the six game regular season series. I took away the goal for the shootout win the Penguins had on the Bruins back on November 6.
Advantage: Push. If you hard pressed me to give you a team, it’s the Penguins, only because using the “what have you done for me now, lately” question, the Bruins finished the season so poorly.
Casey DeSmith led the AHL in goals against with 2.01. His backup is the untested rookie in Sean Maguire. Seems like last year we had the same thing to say about the then at the time untested rookie in Casey DeSmith. Tristan Jarry is on NHL recall for the injured Matt Murray.
Guess who finished second behind DeSmith in goals against? Providence’s Zane McIntyre. Both goalies have near identical statistical accolades. Both won 21 games. DeSmith lost 5 games, McIntyre lost 6. DeSmith lost three in overtime to McIntyre’s two. McIntyre has a better save percentage at .930 to DeSmith’s .926. McIntyre actually led the AHL in that category.
Advantage: It is a push.
Coaching and special teams always go here. The Penguins are coached by Clark Donatelli, who should have won AHL Coach of the Year for piloting his team through the toughest division in the AHL and winning it easily. Kevin Dean did OK in his first year behind the bench for the Bruins but Providence was in second place right as the season started to dwindle and nosedived out of the runner up spot to nearly missing playoffs altogether to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The clear winner here is the Wilkes-Barre’s Head Coach.
Special teams is almost identical. Both teams lead the AHL in penalty killing with the Penguins killing penalties 86.9% of the time with the Bruins right there in second at 86.4%. Take it a step further and on the road, the team with the best PK is the Bruins at 88.7% followed by, yes you guessed right, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins at 86.5%. The Bruins power play was 11th best in the AHL with a 19.1% success rate and the Penguins came in at a respectable, middle of the road 15th, or 17.9%. Match these two teams up head to head and you have another push.
The biggest intangible is how the NHL parent does in the playoffs. If Pittsburgh gets knocked out, Jarry, Jake Guentzel, Carter Rowney, Tom Sestito, Josh Archibald and Cameron Gaunce all become eligible for AHL playoffs. The Bruins could get Tommy Cross, Matt Grzelcyk and Noel Acciari back if Boston goes out to Ottawa or at any time during this short five game series.
Will Zach Aston-Reese back back for the Penguins after getting slashed in the second to last game for the Penguins? His presence would tip the scales for the Penguins in the offensive category.
Social Media Coverage
For the Penguins…
Radio: @MikeOBrienWBS / @_NickHart
Beat: @CVSethLakso and @TomVenesky
For the Bruins…
Radio: Providence fired both their broadcasters a week before the end of the regular season.
Looking at both teams on a scale from across the room, that scale is dead even, but as you get closer to the scale you can clearly see that it tips on one side. That side belongs to the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins. Penguins in four. While yes, both these teams are dead even in nearly every single statistical category known to man, it’s the Penguins who have more ounces on that proverbial scale that tip it in their favor. Providence steals one game, but are again sent packing by the one single team who has had their number in postseasons past.
Gameday setup for Game 1 hits the blog Friday afternoon at 3 p.m.