With 3 games left in the regular season, the P-Bruins sit in first place in the league by a comfortable margin. They have at least three more wins than any other team and two more points than the second place Texas Stars and Springfield Falcons. They are at 99 points - one away from an astonishing 100 on the season.
They were the first team to clinch a playoff spot. They clinched their division soon after, which they currently lead by 16 points. In the race to finish the regular season atop the league, they are riding a six game winning streak and have gone 8-2 in their last 10. They're kicking ass. They're kicking all the ass.
If this sounds a little unfamiliar, it's because the P-Bruins haven't even qualified for the playoffs (let alone vied for the top seed) in four years - since back in 2008-09 when they made a strong run into the third round of the Calder Cup playoffs. In a classic bear on bear match-up, they were defeated by the Hershey Bears in the conference finals.
That P-Bruins team wasn't so bad back then. They had a few familiar names that quickly graduated to the NHL level, explaining why the team was left in shambles for the next three seasons. You might recognize some of those names on the current Boston Bruins roster: Brad Marchand, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, and Tuukka Rask.
That team was pretty good. Quite a few parallels can be drawn between that team and this team. Brad Marchand was a feisty first year pro that finished second in rookie scoring in the regular season. This regular season, Ryan Spooner is a name Boston fans are far more acclimated with already than they were with Marchand's name in 08-09. He has looked at home in his NHL call-ups already this season, but he has been downright dominant in the AHL. He leads all rookie scorers (14 goals, 39 assists = 53 points) and was named to the AHL First All-Rookie Team along with teammate Niklas Svedberg.
Spooner may not play with the edge that Marchand does, but he has a strong supporting cast of other rookies, such as one-third of the "Thank You Kessel" deal and Spooner's best friend forever Jared Knight. Like Spooner - and like most of the P-Bruins forwards, for that matter - Knight isn't very big, especially by Bruins standards, but he certainly likes to throw his body around. He plays with that edge, throwing his body around with a highly coveted ability to score (although we haven't seen it yet in Providence). He has spent almost the entire season on the injured reserve due to a recurring hamstring injury that has only recently seemed to heal (knock on wood) for good.
Knight recently recorded his first professional points with assists over the weekend, but he and Spooner - along with Iginla trade-reject and Russian enigma (just kidding) Alex Khokhlachev - are the most exciting forward pieces to the P-Bruins puzzle going into the playoffs.
As Coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game on Sunday, Knight is still trying to adjust to "finding pucks" and working harder to score goals in the AHL. "That's something he's going to have to figure out here, how to get to the net more often." In the meantime, he is doing a great job of slamming bodies away from the net, like the one he nailed behind the net that led to one of newly signed Matt Lindblad's goals on Sunday afternoon.
Looking back at the blue line for the 08-09 squad, Johnny Boychuk had a breakout season. He won multiple awards and honors such as the Player of the Month for March of 2009 and a First Team All-Star en route to the ultimate prize - the Eddie Shore Award for Best Defenseman in the AHL. He led Providence in scoring and the entire AHL in scoring by a defenseman, but it was Johnny's fifth year pro. That gives him a considerable edge over the player he is most comparable to on this year's P-Bruins team - Torey Krug.
Krug was named the AHL Player of the Week for the week ending April 14th. In three games that week, Krug had two goals and five assists. The rookie defenseman is having a stellar season despite getting off to a slow start. He was named the Player of the Month in February and recently broke the Providence Bruins scoring record by a rookie defenseman when he recorded his 37th point of the season over a week ago (he has 44 points as of right now). He's been called up to Boston a few times and has shown success there already, and like Spooner, has been incredibly dominant at the AHL level.
When looking at the success of the team in 08-09, goaltending was strong as well and Tuukka Rask was solid in his second season between the pipes. He posted a franchise second-best 33 wins before moving up to the NHL where, as we all know, he is doing amazing things and even in the race for the Vezina trophy this season. Young Scandinavian goaltending is pretty much the reason Providence was awesome that year, and is awesome this year again - this time in Niklas Svedberg.
The P-Bruins' superior rookie talent has carried them this season, and is evident in honors such as the First All-Rookie Team, to which Spooner and Svedberg were both named. While Spooner leads all rookies in scoring, Svedberg leads all rookies, goalies, and humans in being awesome.
The awards speak for themselves at this point, but it cannot be stressed how important Svedberg's role has been to the P-Bruins success this season. But let's talk about the awards.
Svedberg was named to the First All-Star Team (for all players, not just rookies), making him the first rookie goaltender to do so since 1995 when Jim Carey did it - that year, Carey also won Rookie of the Year and Best Goaltender, which are awards Svedberg should probably take home this year as well. If he doesn't, it will be highway robbery (crimes which Svedberg routinely commits in net). However, Svedberg has already been robbed himself at least once of the rightful honor of Rookie of the Year when the award when to (THE UNDESERVING) Tyler Toffoli (DON'T GET ME STARTED).
Svedberg's achievements don't stop there. In March, he was named the AHL Rookie of the Month (the month after Krug). He was also named to the All-Star Team for the AHL All-Star Classic in January when it was held in Providence. The All-Star team also featured teammates Trent Whitfield, who captained the East squad, and leading goal scorer Jamie Tardif - a side note which speaks to the very important characteristic of veteran and rookie talent mixed together in Providence.
This strong mixture of both rookie and veteran skill is what sets Providence apart and makes them a special team to watch. They have had to deal with some tough injuries, but guys have stepped up. They have 30 goals from Tardif, 22 from Craig Cunningham (who won the Memorial Cup on the Vancouver Giants with Milan Lucic, and who you probably will see at some point in the future in Boston, I promise you). Carter Camper, who had an impressive rookie year last year, was held back by injuries the majority of this year but is hitting his stride again.
Recent surges from noted awesome people Christian Hanson - who is also the go-to guy in the faceoff circle - and his linemates, noted poet and asskicker extraordinaire Bobby Robins, and Justin Florek are great examples of team scoring depth. That line is what I consider both the Providence equivalent of the Merlot Line as well as a line entirely made up of guys who played college hockey who are probably smarter than all of us.
They are in great hands as, the man who was in his first year as assistant coach back in 08-09, Bruce Cassidy, is doing a knockout job in his first year as head coach in Providence. Nobody expects to be a 100-point team going into a season, but "the kids are playing well," Cassidy said. His role players, leaders, and newcomers are all quickly learning how to play together as the season winds down and it's a beautiful thing to watch.
But back to the most beautiful thing to watch - Svedberg. Svedberg, who was one of the biggest variables coming into the season. "...we didn't know what we had in Svedberg," Cassidy said in discussing one of the aspects of why this team is a 100-point team. "He wins games."
Like Rask did four years ago, Svedberg will probably make the jump to the NHL after this season. But what's great about Svedberg (besides "everything") is that he is already a proven champion. The Bruins signed him over the summer after he won his team in the Swedish Elite League a championship. He was the backup goaltender until the starting goaltender was injured in the playoffs. From there, Svedberg took over and took the team all the way. That's right, he has even faced the Yeti, the Dread Pirate himself, Carl Soderberg...and beat him.
Svedberg recently passed Tuukka's aforementioned second-best number for wins in a season by a Providence goaltender. The record is 37 and was set by (contain laughter) John Grahame in the last season the P-Bruins won the Calder Cup championship way back in 1998-99. Grahame's record of 37 wins in a season by a Providence goalie is in danger of being broken - with his win on Sunday, Svedberg recorded win number 36 of the season. There are three games left in the regular season for the Providence Bruins, and Svedberg needs to win only one of them to tie the record. If you've seen him play at all recently, you might wanna take the chance to tune in this weekend to see history probably get made.
Either way, this is a special and exciting team to watch. I've compared them to the 2008-09 team to say they are just as good. But you know what? They are actually way better.