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AHL Playoffs: The PBruins are rolling, up 2-0 on Wilkes-Barre. Suck it, baby Pens.

awww remember when Zatkoff was a King
awww remember when Zatkoff was a King
Christian Petersen

We're all pretty bummed about the suckfest that is the Boston Bruins and the looming doom of game seven tonight, but I like to remind myself of the great things in life, like the fact that the Providence Bruins are actually still playing hockey and are actually winning. It seems like forever ago, but games one and two of the second round series with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins took place on Friday and Saturday night in Providence. Providence won both games by an awesome combined score of 12-7.

Game three isn't until Wednesday unfortunately. Games three, four, and if necessary, game five will all be in Wilkes-Barre because the AHL is the stupid and even though the second round is an improvement over the first round in that it is a best-of-seven (yay!) rather than a best-of-five, the format is not that which actually gives the home team home ice advantage. Rather than 2-2-1-1-1, they play 2-3-2. So unless this game goes at least six games (it better not), we won't be seeing Providence play at home again until the next round, assuming they advance (they better, so help me GOD).

Anyway, now that we have established why the AHL is a pain in the ass, let's get back to celebrating why the P-Bruins are awesome. A lot happened in the two games on Friday and Saturday night, so it might be easy to forget. If you blinked on Friday night, you probably missed a goal. Providence won 8-5 in game one and then 4-2 in game two, scoring a combined 12 goals in four periods against Penguins goaltender Jeff Zatkoff before he was benched at the start of the second period in game two.

Let's do a quick recap, because why the hell not?! Game one, in which I pretend I was not actually at the Bruins game in Boston and didn't totally miss this entire game in Providence:

  • WBS is awarded a penalty shot while already on a power play. The call is questionable. I remain suspicious. Chad Kolarik scored the first goal of the series on this penalty shot. I'm surprised and disappointed that Niklas Svedberg is showing human qualities such as not being a perfect goaltender. He stopped all three penalty shots he faced in the regular season and was one of the best in the league in shootouts, so I considered one-on-one scenarios one of his strengths. Then again, I didn't actually watch this game live or see the penalty shot, so who knows what the hell happened.
  • Luckily for as average as Svedberg has been in the playoffs, the spirit of Marc-Andre Fleury roams the halls of the Penguins organization and has landed in Jeff Zatkoff's soul, stripping him of all goaltending talent. Zatkoff was the best goalie in the league during the regular season in goals against average (1.93), but the P-Bruins first goal against him in this series was a weak one. It was also Ryan Spooner's first professional playoff goal! Woohoo!! Spooner is shaking off the rust of his first pro playoff series experience from Hershey and kicking ass now.
  • In a period of about seven minutes during the second period, Providence scored four goals and WBS scored two. This was not a clinic in goaltending, unless this clinic is run by Vesa Toskala. Jordan Caron opened the scoring in the second period and capped it off with a sweet celebration at the camera man. It was glorious.
  • WBS came back and tied it up at two for a short while before Kyle MacKinnon scored his first of the playoffs to make it 3-1 Providence, followed quickly by Jamie Tardif's first of the series, then Carter Camper on the power play to make it 5-2. Paul Thompson scored for WBS to make it 5-3.
  • Craig Cunningham opened the third period scoring to make it 6-3. This would be the eventual game-winner.
  • Shit hit the fan in the third period. The teams were already pissed at each other when Bobby Robins threw a hit that injured Penguins defenseman Dylan Reese and in the third, captain Joey Mormina went high on Justin Florek, which drew Exelby and eventually Robins. In the end, about an hour of penalty minutes were assessed and somehow the Penguins came out with a power play.
  • Chris Collins scored on the ensuing power play to make it 6-4, then Thomspon scored his second of the game to make it a one-goal game with under three minutes left.
  • Thankfully, Chris Bourque came to the rescue, scoring on Zatkoff before they had the chance to pull him for an extra attacker with just under two minutes left. After that Providence got a power play, which Tardif cashed in on to make the final score 8-5.
  • In the end, 13 different P-Bruins had at least a point, and eight P-Bruins had multi-point games - Caron, Spooner, Camper, MacKinnon, and Cunningham each had one goal and one assist; Trent Whitfield had two assists; Tardif had 2 goals; and Bouque had one goal and three assists. (David Warsofsky, Tommy Cross, Christian Hanson, Kevan Miller, and Jared Knight [!!!] each had one assist - Knight had his first professional playoff point.)
  • Somehow Torey Krug was a -1 because he plays with dead weight named Exelby as a defensive partner. Krug hasn't produced much offensively this postseason, and was kept off the scoresheet in game one despite having four shots.
  • Chris Bourque seriously has the WBS Penguins number. Their fans really hate him. It's great.
Before game two, some line-up changes should be noted. Jared Knight was healthy scratched for Graham Mink, which was a predetermined plan I believe. Kevan Miller re-injured his rib again at some point during game one, and therefore was replaced by Ryan Button for Game two. Keep in mind the P-Bruins were already without arguably their best defenseman, Matt Bartkowski, who is on call up with Boston (and therefore replaced by Zach Trotman in game one).

For the Penguins, defenseman Dylan Reese never returned from the Bobby Robins hit. He was replaced by Cody Wild in game two. To add some muscle, Christiaan (yes it's spelled with two a's there, I don't fucking know why) Minella replaced Bobby Farnham on the fourth line.

Game two saw the Bruins jump out with four goals in the first, but that would be all they would score in that game. Here's another sad excuse for a recap:
  • The Penguins scored first again, this time on a shorthanded goal by Warren Peters, who will later try to murder Zach Trotman (this may be an exaggeration).
  • One minute and eight seconds later was all it took for Providence to tie this game up. On a 5-on-3 power play, Tardif tied the game at one. Later on in the first period, Ryan Spooner scored in his second straight game to give Providence a 2-1 lead. Tardif scored again on the power play late in the first to make it 3-1 before Bourque gave the team a 4-1 lead with 30 seconds left in the first.
  • Zatkoff didn't start the second period as a result of sucking. In four periods against Providence, he saw 40 shots and only made 28 saves. That's math that is too hilarious to bother doing.
  • Brad Thiessen only faced 16 shots from Providence in the next two periods, so the fact that he didn't allow any goals isn't really that shocking.
  • The Penguins cut the lead to 4-2 on a power play goal late in the second period, and that was it for the scoring in this game.
  • Peters hit Trotman high in the third period, and Trotman was down for a while. He had a pretty bad concussion during the regular season. When he got up with the help of two teammates after the hit, he nearly fell down headfirst into the boards...he was very dazed and unable to walk himself. He was basically carried off by two teammates. So I'm gonna go ahead and assume he is a no-go for game three, which means the worst possible scenario has come true...Colby Cohen will be on defense in game three.
So how did we get to this point where Providence has engaged in yet another insanely high scoring series that is out-of-character? They are letting in a lot of power play goals, but are scoring a lot of goals too. It's a circus. It'll probably calm down as the series goes on, and the variables such as the ability of Svedberg to steal games and Bourque to continue to produce scoring (he has seven points in two games so far already, it's ridiculous/awesome) along with not taking stupid penalties and staying disciplined will determine if the P-Bruins can close out this series with two more wins.

The main factors so far in this series have been:
  1. Physical play and dirty hits
  2. Special teams: lethal power plays/horrible penalty kills
  3. Goals in bunches
  4. Questionable goaltending
  5. The Bourque-Spooner-Tardif line
1. Physical play and dirty hits - As I discussed above, there were hits in game one that both teams were unhappy about. The Robins hit on Reese and Mormina hit on Florek were each reviewed by the AHL at the request of each team, but no suspensions were issued. After game two, the Providence Bruins submitted the Peters hit on Trotman for review by the AHL, but no word on suspension yet has been issued.

Despite that, injuries are already piling up. On defense, Miller and Trotman out, added to the absence of Bartkowski to the NHL, is really going to put Providence to the test. But Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has their own injuries as well. Reese was a top defenseman for them, and in game two I believe they lost another player but I honestly can't remember who because I still have yet to really get the players on that team straight.

Playing on the edge will be costly because of the special teams.

2. Special teams - Providence's power play was above average in the Hershey series because the Hershey penalty kill was abysmal. In fact, both teams had embarrassingly bad penalty kills in that five-game series. Providence is on track for another battle of least-worst-PK.

Through two games, Providence has been issued 17 penalties for a total of 53 penalty minutes, versus WBS, who has been given 18 penalties which add up to 55 penalty minutes. Each team is four-for-ten on the power play, although the Penguins have a short-handed goal as well.

Providence has actually given up two shorthanded goals in the playoffs so far. In 28 power play opportunities through two rounds consisting of seven games, they have scored nine goals which gives them the best power play percentage in the league in the playoffs - 32.1%. The Penguins are second with 26.9%. Providence is predictably dead last in penalty kill (72.2%), although WBS is not far above that as they are second-worst at 72.7%.

3. Goals in bunches - Providence scored four goals in one period twice already this series: the second period of game one, and the first period of game two. The most extreme example was the five minute span in which the four goals were scored in the second period of game one. Providence is guilty of giving up goals in bunches too, and this was a huge problem in the regular season. They would build up big leads but then nearly blow them. Svedberg would play great and save games, but give up two or three goals at a time. This happened late in game one when the Penguins pulled within one goal late in the third period when it was 6-5. Luckily Chris Bourque came to the rescue on the offense.

4. Questionable goaltending - Since these were the two best teams defensively in the regular season, it's likely this pace will slow down. But that will be entirely dependent upon the ability of the defensive cores, which at the moment don't seem to be holding up too well for either team. I suspect Svedberg will prevail, especially given he has experience winning in the playoffs professionally over in the Swedish Elite League last year. He has a GAA under 2.00, although I don't really know what the goal scoring average is like over there.

5. The Bourque-Spooner-Tardif line - I was all about the Caron-Camper-Cunningham line in the first round, and I am still in love with that line now. They're still playing well. But the experience of Bourque and Tardif along with the skill of Spooner is on a completely different level. First of all, Tardif has scored 3 of the 4 power play goals Providence has so far in this series.

Tardif is tied for the lead in goals scored in the playoffs with seven. He is tied for first in power play goals with 4 with Tyler Johnson of the Syracuse Crunch. Bourque is tied for the points lead at 13 also with Johnson of the Crunch. (Go away Tyler Johnson, you robbed Svedberg of regular season MVP and now you're robbing the P-Bruins of attention for scoring ALL THE GOALS!! in the playoffs).

Through two games against the Penguins, Spooner has three points (2 G, 1 A), Tardif has six points (4 G, 2 A), and Bourque has seven points (2 G, 5 A). Providence has been successful because of Svedberg's ability to shut down other teams and made their defense look good, but they have explosive offense as well. I think this is far better than the Penguins have, especially since their defensive system that they rely heavily on (as far as I know, I honestly don't know this team that well) is breaking down already.

It will be interesting to see how Providence plays against Thiessen on Wednesday, assuming he gets the start, for a full 60 minutes. I am pretty sure Providence rookies and young guys like Spooner, Camper, Caron, and Cunningham are just getting started - and guys like Krug are going to fly onto the radar any moment now. Krug is among league leaders in shots in the playoffs right now, even though he has no goals and just three assists through seven games. And I think we can count on 'veterans' like Bourque and Tardif to dominate, and other 'veterans' as role players to contribute with significance, except Exelby, whose only role is to be useless.