It’s crunch time in the minors.
Both Boston Bruins affiliates are primed for the postseason, with their remaining regular season games proving vital for playoff seeding purposes. After an up-and-down second half so far, the Providence Bruins seem to have rediscovered their identity at the right time, winning five straight games.
That winning streak continued with three wins over the weeked. Providence dispatched the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning), 4-2, on Friday before consecutive close victories over the Springfield Thunderbirds (St. Louis Blues), 4-1 on the road Saturday and 3-2 in a shootout at home on Sunday.
As for Maine, after what has so far been a strong second half, the Mariners have been faltering as of late, winning one of three contests against their regional rival Worcester Railers (New York Islanders) over the weekend. The visiting team won all three games, with Worcester claiming a 4-3 victory on Friday and a 3-2 triumph on Sunday, while Maine defeated the Railers 6-4 in Worcester on Saturday.
37-14-10, 84 points, 1st in Atlantic Division
Don’t look now, but the Providence Bruins are catching fire at the right time. The AHL Bruins are 5-1-0 in their last six contests and have opened up a three-point lead atop the Atlantic Division.
The winning streak continued over the weekend with a trio of victories, beginning on Friday as Providence outlasted Syracuse, 4-2. The teams traded goals in the opening five minutes, but Georgii Merkulov struck twice before the opening period expired to give Providence the lead for good. Fabian Lysell added the exclamation point late after the Crunch cut the deficit to one, with Connor Carrick picking up his third assist of the day. In net, Michael DiPietro made his Providence debut, making 33 saves in the victory.
The offense continued to thrive on Saturday in a 4-1 win at Springfield. Curtis Hall and John Beecher tallied early in the first, the former netting his first of the season. Merkulov and Chris Wagner also found twine, with Joona Koppanen collecting an assist for his third point of the weekend. Brandon Bussi got the win in goal, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced.
In the rematch with Springfield on Sunday in Providence, the Bruins needed a shootout to eek out a 3-2 victory. Providence finished the day with 56 shots, two of which were goals from Koppanen. But the Thunderbirds tied it with 60 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. In the shootout, it was Koppanen who sent the 10,000 fans in attendance home happy as Kyle Keyser denied all three Springfield shooters.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Joona Koppanen — Five points for Koppanen, including three goals, seals the honors this week. Stick taps go to Merkulov (3g, 1a) and Carrick (4a).
- Called up to Boston — Jakub Lauko.
- Called up from Maine — Mitchell Fossier.
- Sent down to Maine — Michael DiPietro.
UP NEXT: Providence heads to North Carolina for a pair of contests against the Charlotte Checkers (Florida Panthers). Saturday’s series opener starts at 4:00 p.m., with Sunday’s finale slated for a 1:00 p.m. puck drop.
33-23-3, 69 points, 3rd in North Division
Has Maine run out of steam? After a strong opening to the calendar year, the wind appears to have come out of the Mariners’ sails as of late.
Maine went 1-2-0 over the weekend, outshooting and, at times, outplaying Worcester, but were unable to find ways to win. In Friday’s 4-3 loss, Maine led 2-0 after a period and appeared in control. But New England native Liam Coughlin, who played two games last season for Providence on loan, netted a hat trick as part of four straight strikes for the visitors. A late marker from Chase Zieky made it interesting, but the Mariners couldn’t find the equalizer.
Roles reversed on Saturday night in Worcester as Maine skated to a 6-4 win. Trailing 3-1 after a period, Maine dug deep and tallied a trio in the middle frame with Zieky, Alex Kile, and newcomer Carter Johnson all scoring goals. A late power-play goal from Tyler Hinam sealed the victory for the Mariners.
On Sunday, Worcester had the last laugh in a 3-2 win. The Mariners struck first through Grant Gabriele’s seventh of the season, but the Railers scored three times in 2:21 to pull in front. Kile got Maine within a goal, scoring his second of the weekend less than a minute into the third period. But despite pouring on 50 shots, including a 17-2 edge during the third, Maine just couldn’t close the gap.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Alex Kile — Welcome back indeed. After returning from loan, Kile’s two goals and two assists over the weekend earned him the honors. Stick taps go to Zieky (2g, 2a) and Gabriel Chicoine (3a).
- Called up to Providence — Mitchell Fossier.
- Sent down from Providence — Michael DiPietro.
- Recalled from Loan — Alex Kile (Lehigh Valley), Andrew Peski (Calgary).
- Released — Griff Jeszka.
- TRADE — After a stellar season a year ago, Keltie Jeri-Leon has been dealt away. The forward was traded to Wheeling in exchange for forward Carter Johnson. A former standout at Miami (Oh.) University, Johnson has 11 goals and 24 assists in 58 games this season after putting up 45 points for Wichita in his first ECHL season last year.
UP NEXT: It doesn’t get any easier this week for Maine with a four-game road trip down South. Maine kicks off the week with a matchup against the Orlando Solar Bears (Toronto Maple Leafs) on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. The journey back up the East Coast continues with a Friday faceoff with the Atlanta Gladiators (Arizona Coyotes) at 7:00 p.m. The Mariners then close the week with a pair of contests at the South Carolina Stingrays (Washington Capitals), Saturday at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.