We've spent a lot of time praising the great play of the rookies on the Providence Bruins this season, as we should. Ryan Spooner, Torey Krug, and Niklas Svedberg carried this team to the top in the regular seaon. But they have been shaky in the playoffs thus far as the team has heavily relied on AHL veteran experience to score goals - Graham Mink, Chris Bourque, Jamie Tardif, Christian Hanson. This was to be expected; the question was, would anyone else step up -- and when?
Looking at the scoring column after four games, it may not be who we would expect. He is neither a rookie nor a veteran, but Carter Camper leads the Providence Bruins in playoff scoring headed into game five. He stepped up last night when the team needed someone to do it most, when guys like Bourque simply weren't getting it done. Camper scored three goals, making his postseason total this year five goals and two assists for seven points. This is his first professional playoff experience.
Camper's three goals last night were all impressive, but the game-winning goal itself was my favorite because it was something that needed to be done that nobody else on the team seemed willing to do: just fucking getting the puck on net. And it turned out to be a snipe of a shot that beat Philip Grubauer with just over a minute left in the game to break a 4-4 tie.
His other two goals came on rebounds that were in part produced by shots from the point by Matt Bartkowski and screens provided by Jordan Caron or Mink. He stepped it up on the power play, at even strength, and in the final seconds of what could have been the entirety of the Providence Bruins 2012-2013 season, he single-handedly sent the series to a game five.
Maybe it shouldn't come as such a shock. This is the same little guy who scored his first NHL goal in what was only his second NHL game last year. He was signed by the Boston Bruins upon the conclusion of his senior year at Miami University in his home state of Ohio, where he played four years of CCHA hockey. Although he was undrafted, he had an immediate impact upon his arrival to Providence, leading the team in scoring in 2011-2012 as a rookie and being the only player from the P-Bruins named to the All-Star team that year.
Camper may have flown under the radar this year in comparison to the production of Bourque, Spooner, and Tardif. He was also dealing with some injuries that caused him to sit out 19 games. He never really got into the flow of the season until the latter stages, when he caught fire along with the rest of the team in the final weeks of the season. He finished 2nd in scoring behind only Spooner, with 10 goals and 37 assists.
At even strength, Camper has been centering a line flanked by Craig Cunningham and Caron. Cunningham scored his first professional playoff goal last night when he tied the game at four apiece late in the 3rd period, right before Camper finished off his hat trick to give Providence the lead. It was on the power play, so he was not playing with Cunningham or Caron. While Camper usually racks up more assists - which makes his playoff goal scoring more impressive - Cunningham is more of a goal scorer. He was second on the team in scoring in the regular season with 25 goals, behind Tardif's 30. He has topped 20 goals in each of his two seasons with Providence.
As a goal-scorer, his inability to contribute on the single most important part of this series - the power play - seemed to become an increasing liability. He was out on the first power play unit every game with Bourque and Krug on the points and Spooner and Tardif down low. He seemed to have no chemistry with them until last night. He scored from that spot between the hash marks and the goal line that Tyler Seguin scores some pretty goals from. Camper and Caron play together on the second power play unit along with Mink, who is the single best AHL player in the role of parking his ass in front of the net and getting to rebounds, with Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller on the points.
Although Camper, Caron, and Cunningham as a line have generated just one goal with all three on the ice together so far this series, they continue to chip away and make an impact. They are all young players with enough experience and talent working together to emerge as a potential game-breaker in the series deciding game five on Wednesday night.
Relatedly, Caron has been on the ice for four of Camper's five goals. OH MY GOD CARON IS USEFUL IN THE AHL AGAIN. And there aren't mediocre players being made great by Chris Bourque or other of the AHL's finest talent - they are bringing the best out in each other, showing a lot of skill that we forgot each of them possessed individually. Something about those pint-sized linemates makes Caron put that big body to good use again.
Some fans in Boston have given up on Caron, but watching him play with guys like Camper and Cunningham, who I have no doubt will show up in Boston in the near future and it will be awesome, there's an extra spark in his gallop again. And Carter Camper was made to play in the Bruins organization, if not just for the hilarious pronunciations of his name. Ultimately it's the fire these guys play with that I think will overcome whatever advantage Hershey had in this series.