Providence, RI - In a hard-hitting, physical contest, the Providence Bruins jumped out to a one-game-to-zero series lead with an 8-5 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. Providence exploded for four goals in the second period and then added three more in the third period to halt any comeback aspirations of the Baby Pens.
"Sometimes you have to win games like that. We did against Hershey. We had to score some goals to win. It was nice to see the offensive guys make plays," said Providence coach Bruce Cassidy.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton got on the board first in the opening period when it was awarded a penalty shot after Providence defenseman Kevin Millar gloved the puck in the crease. Chad Kolarik came in and, without deking, forehanded a shot that rang off the post and into the net. It beat Providence goalie Niklas Svedberg, who made 16 saves in the period, on the blocker side.
Late in the period, some tic-tac-toe passing by Providence's top line evened the score. Tommy Cross passed it up the boards to Chris Bourque who fired it right to Ryan Spooner who was waiting in the high slot. His one-timer beat Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff.
The second period began with the teams tied at one, and the Penguins outshooting the Bruins 17-6. Providence really came out firing on all cylinders to start the second and that energy would be rewarded just over five minutes in.
Jordan Caron gave the Bruins their first lead of the game when he tipped in a rebound attempt over Zatkoff. Kevin Miller took the initial slap shot from the point. Craig Cunningham tried to bat in the rebound first, but it got Zatkoff down so Caron could lift it over him.
Just over a minute later, Brian Gibbons knotted the score at two when the former Boston College star scored a goal from in close. He banged one past Svedberg from just outside the goalmouth with assists going to Paul Thompson and Chris Collins.
Providence regained the lead when the line of Kyle MacKinnon, Trent Whitfield and Jared Knight transitioned the puck up ice. Knight, playing in place of Graham Mink who was a healthy scratch, sprung Whitfield who gave a nice centering pass to MacKinnon who batted the puck past Zatkoff.
Jamie Tardif gave the Bruins their first two-goal lead of the game when he roofed the puck over Zatkoff at the 8:34 mark of the second period. The tally came after some quick passing from Bourque and Christian Hanson led to an open chance.
On the power play, Providence would extend its lead to three. Carter Camper scored his sixth goal of the playoffs on a one-timer set up by Bourque and Caron.
Bourque attributed the success finding the back of the net to the type of players his teammates are. "I think we have a lot of high-end skill. A lot of the guys can really pass the puck and bury it when given the opportunity. When you pass the puck hard and crisp like that, you're going to get open looks. The tough part is getting it by the goalie," said Bourque.
Wilkes-Barre cut the lead down to two on a power play of its own at the 12:43 mark. Former UNH forward Paul Thompson backhanded the puck past Svedberg after a juicy rebound. The initial shot from the right side by defenseman Joey Mormina was stopped, but Thompson had a virtual empty-net from the left side following the rebound.
All five goals by both teams in the second period came in a span of just 7:34. The score would remain 5-3 Providence heading into the third period until the Bruins escalated their lead back to three. Craig Cunningham finished off a nice sequence of puck control started by defenseman David Warsofsky. Camper took the puck from Warsofsky, who in turn fed it to the left slot where Cunningham was waiting.
The Bruins held its three-goal lead until Collins scored a power play goal that resulted from the melee caused by a high hit on the Bruins Justin Florek. Bobby Robins and Garnet Exelby took exception to the hit, and thus Providence was shorthanded for four minutes.
Just less than a minute later, two former UNH Wildcats connected to put a scare into the Providence faithful. Paul Thompson finished off a slick pass from Trevor Smith to make the score 6-5 with 2:41 to play.
Bourque gave the Bruins the insurance they desperately needed when he blasted home a slap shot with 1:55 to play in the game. Spooner zipped the puck up the left side to Bourque who crossed the blue line before unleashing a shot into the back of the net. It was Bourque's fourth goal of the playoffs, but also his fourth point of the night.
Tardif tacked on some additional insurance when he scored a power play goal with just 36 seconds to play. Whitfield and MacKinnon assisted on the goal. Providence was two-for-four on the power play, but the puck movement was impressive.
"[Providence's] power play did a nice job. They got in a little bit of a rhythm there. They were making some good plays and had a lot of confidence," said Penguins coach John Hynes about the efficiency of the Providence power play.
Heading into the series, Cassidy predicted a low-scoring, physical series. The first-year head coach of the Bruins was certainly right on the physicality, but it wasn't the low-scoring affair he predicted. "This time of the year, you certainly want to correct things. We want to be tighter," said Cassidy.
Notes: Friday night's attendance was 3,005... There were 86 total penalty minutes in the game, including 62 at the 13:46 mark of the third period when a Joey Mormina hit on Justin Florek caused a melee... Game 2 is Saturday night at 7:05 p.m.