The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins arguably surpassed expectations in the first two games of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series against the Binghamton Senators. Instead of being blown out by the Sens, the Pens split two overtime games and now own home-ice advantage for Wednesday and Friday.
In order to take the series lead on Wednesday, the Penguins will have to shut down the Senators and play their best hockey—nothing less.
Of course, it’s not that simple.
Here are some ways the Pens can take a 2-1 lead and stand a chance at eliminating the Senators on Friday.
Fix Special Teams Woes
As mentioned in the preview of this series, the Penguins struggled on the power play in the regular season, and that has continued into the playoffs. WBS is 0-for-8 on its power-play opportunities, while Binghamton is first in the league with a 42.9 percent success rate (3-for-7). This has also led to problems on the penalty kill, which was among the top 10 in the AHL in the regular season.
WBS scored a shorthanded goal in Friday’s game courtesy of Andrew Ebbett, who was second on the team with two of those tallies for the first six months of the year. However, it has taken the first penalty in both games, and on Saturday, the Pens went to the box three times before a Senator took a seat.
Very even first period for WBS and BNG. Exactly what you'd expect from these two teams and this series. The difference, right now, the PP.
— Mike O'Brien (@OBrienOnTheMic) April 25, 2014
No matter how inconsistent the officiating is, the Penguins need to stay out of the penalty box and shut down a Binghamton power-play unit that boasts snipers like Stephane Da Costa and Cody Ceci.
Take Control Early
The Penguins had the right idea on Saturday when they jumped out to a 3-1 lead against the Senators, but early in the third, the Sens tied the game and eventually earned a series split in overtime.
If the Pens get the lead on Wednesday, they have to keep their foot on the gas and not give Binghamton any breathing room.
During the regular season, the Penguins were 22-1-2-1 when leading after one, while Binghamton was 20-4-1-2. Both teams were significantly worse when trailing early, with WBS posting an 8-19-1-2 record and the Senators going 8-17-1-2.
The Penguins will have a lesser chance of winning if they let the Senators back into the game at any point, and Binghamton’s offense is too dangerous to take chances. Furthermore, the Sens obviously want to win on the road.
However, both teams have shown they can come back from behind, and it could come down to a matter of who wants to win the game more.
Finish in Regulation
Both games this series have gone to extra time, but if Game 3 is done in 60 minutes, the team who can wrap up the job early will have more momentum for Game 4 on Friday.
— Matt Weinstein (@SteinTime44) April 29, 2014
This year, the Pens played 16 overtime games and were 4-3 in those that did not require the shootout. The Sens had 20 contests go to an extra period and went 9-3 when they didn’t need the shootout. While one could argue that Binghamton will have the edge, they required overtime more often than not, which shows that the Pens have less trouble playing catch up or surrendering leads.
Whoever plays the more complete game in regulation will not only boost their postseason confidence, but will also stand a lesser chance of wearing themselves out physically for the second round. And considering the Penguins’ injury issues this season, it will be a huge plus.
Peter Mannino and Andrew Hammond have nearly similar stats so far, with both posting 1-1 records and 2.58 GAAs. However, Hammond has a slightly better save percentage at .905, while Mannino sits at .905.
Mannino has been able to keep the Sens from scoring more goals by making clutch saves, whether through quick catches or being alert during a scramble in front of his crease. He has also been in the postseason before, making a run to the division finals as a member of the Chicago Wolves in 2010. That said, his numbers were just average, as he went 6-5 with a 3.12 GAA and .889 save percentage.
While Hammond could certainly get hot and lead the Sens out of the first round and beyond, Mannino needs to prove that he is the more experienced goalie and capable of more playoff success. If he keeps coming up with highlight-reel saves, the Pens will be able to come out of Wednesday with a win.
Alison is currently covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL for The Hockey Writers after writing about the NHL’s New Jersey Devils from 2011-2012. She is currently employed for the fast growing sports website Bleacher Report as a quality editor and hopes to one day have a media relations career with a professional hockey team. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonM_110.