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Affiliate Report: Maine clinches playoff spot, Providence back in first place

The Maine Mariners got the results they needed to clinch a playoff spot, while the Providence Bruins welcomed a slew of new faces with two road wins.

2022 NCAA Division I Mens Ice Hockey Championship - Northeast Regional
Brandon Bussi.
Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

The postseason beckons for one Boston Bruins’ affiliate on the same weekend its parent club also clinched a playoff spot.

In their first season as a Bruins’ affiliate, the Maine Mariners clinched a berth in the ECHL playoffs over the weekend with three consecutive victories over North Division leaders Reading Royals (Philadelphia Flyers) and Newfoundland Growlers (Toronto Maple Leafs).

Maine knocked off Reading, 6-2, on Wednesday in Portland before consecutive shootout victories over Newfoundland, 2-1 and 4-3. The results mean Maine ends the season fourth in the North Division and will face the Royals in the opening round of the playoffs. The Mariners went 3-2-1 against Reading during six regular season contests.

At the AHL level, Providence saw contributions from several new additions, including first-round pick John Beecher, in a two-game sweep of the Keystone State. Providence recorded victories over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers), 3-2, and the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals), 1-0.

Providence Bruins

35-20-10, 80 points, 1st in Atlantic Division

Providence had been marred by inconsistent play and wavering results in recent weeks, yet still found itself within striking distance of first place in the Atlantic Division. With the season approaching its final stretch, Providence has gotten performances from some top prospects along with a bevy of new, impact signings.

The Bruins’ AHL affiliate opened the two-game Pennsylvania road trip with a 3-2 shootout win over Lehigh Valley. Newly acquired Georgii Merkulov notched his first two professional assists, helping on goals by Chris Wagner and Justin Brazeau. In the shootout, Merkulov converted his attempt which was enough to lift Providence past the hosts. New addition Brandon Bussi out of Western Michigan stopped 28 shots and all three shootout attempts on the night.

In the weekend finale, a 1-0 win at Hershey, the teams cancelled each other out for over 50 minutes before Michael Callahan, who signed with Boston after playing collegiately at Providence College, tallied his first professional goal. Steven Fogarty provided his 31st assist of the season while Jakub Lauko added a helper as well. Bussi made the start again, stopping all 26 shots he faced.

Making his first appearance at the pro level this week was first-round pick John Beecher, who was kept off the scoresheet but showed his capability with six shots in two games. It’s a welcome sign for Boston who has been awaiting his emergence from Michigan for two years.

Player of the Week: Brandon Bussi & Georgii Merkulov — The two new faces each stepped up their game for the pro level. Bussi had a pair of wins and 54 saves on 56 shots, along with going 3-for-3 on shootout attempts. Merkulov notched his first two assists over the weekend as well. Stick taps go to Jakub Lauko for a pair of assists.

Roster Moves

  • Signed — John Beecher (Michigan).
  • Called Up to Boston — Troy Grosenick, Jesper Froden.
  • Sent Down from Boston — Jack Ahcan.
  • Sent Down to Maine — J.D. Greenway.
  • Called Up from Maine — Callum Booth.

UP NEXT: It’s a four-game week for Providence, the penultimate weekend of the regular season. Providence starts off the week with three home games, hosting Lehigh Valley on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m., the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday at 7:05 p.m., and the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes) at 7:05 p.m. They’ll close the week with a Sunday matinee at the Springfield Thunderbirds (St. Louis Blues), with puck drop slated for 2:05 p.m.

Maine Mariners

33-31-8, 74 points, 4th in North Division

The Maine Mariners needed results after entering the season’s final weekend in a three-way tie for the final two playoff berths. While having the benefit of being home, Maine’s opponents — Newfoundland and Reading — entered the weekend comfortably in playoff position atop the North Division standings.

Maine hosted Reading last Wednesday in what turned out to be a playoff preview, dispatching the Royals 6-2. Cameron Askew scored twice, while Nick Master, Pascal Laberge, Tyler Hinam (goal and assist each), and Michael Kim (two assists) all had multi-point efforts. Callum Booth got the start in goal, turning aside 37 shots in the win.

Entering the weekend series with Newfoundland, Maine fell behind 1-0 early in the first game on Friday. With five minutes to play in the third period, Andrew Peski equalized for the Mariners and Mathew Santos supplied an overtime winner in a 2-1 victory. Goaltender Stefanos Lekkas shined again, registering 27 saves.

Maine fell behind early again to start Saturday’s season finale, a 4-3 shootout win, but recovered with goals from Askew and Santos four minutes apart to take a lead. Master added a third, but the Growlers rallied to tie it down the stretch and force overtime. The game went to a shootout where Askew and Master both converted and Lekkas, who had 40 saves, denied both Newfoundland attempts.

Player of the Week: Nick Master — A sterling effort from the forward helped Maine reach the postseason, with two goals, three assists, and a plus-3 rating for the weekend. Stick taps go out to Cameron Askew and Mathew Santos for their performances as well as Stefanos Lekkas, who has turned out to be quite the mid-season pickup.

Roster Moves

  • Sent Down from Providence — J.D. Greenway.
  • Called Up to Providence — Callum Booth.

UP NEXT: Here is the first round schedule for Maine’s series against the Reading Royals.

  1. Wed., April 20 at Reading (7:00 p.m.)
  2. Fri., April 22 at Reading (7:00 p.m.)
  3. Thu., April 28 vs. Reading (7:00 p.m.)
  4. Fri., April 29 vs. Reading (7:15 p.m.)
  5. Sat., April 30 vs. Reading* (6:00 p.m.)
  6. Mon., May 2 at Reading* (7:00 p.m.)
  7. Wed., May 4 at Reading* (7:00 p.m.)

* — If Necessary