The Providence Bruins may not be roaring into the playoffs, but they did enough over the weekend to clinch a playoff spot. A 5-3 win over the Springfield Thunderbirds on Saturday clinched a Calder Cup playoff berth with a game to spare. Providence was 5-5-0 down the stretch, but considering what the team has overcome, it’s tough to complain about the fourth and final Atlantic Division playoff spot.
All Hands On Deck in Providence
As the calendar year ended, the P-Bruins had found themselves slipping to sixth place in the division, with a below .500 record at 14-15-5-0. Since the beginning of January, Providence has turned in more consistent performances, compiling a 24-12-3-3 record. Part of that consistency can be credited to a steadier lineup.
Coach Jay Leach and company dealt with a high number of injuries and call-ups this season. Providence had 45 different skaters wear the spoked P. Many of the players lost had a significant impact on the lineup. Anders Bjork continued to have injury problems and was lost midway through the season. Martin Bakos was unable to ever truly find his game in Providence and returned to Europe, and Jan Kovar joined him after what amounted to a 12-game audition in North America.
Ryan Donato was a scoring threat in the 18 games he suited up in Providence, but was traded at the deadline to help improve the big club’s playoff chances. The P-Bruins also lost a mainstay and dynamic player in Colby Cave. Cave was a versatile forward who brought his best effort every night for the last three seasons.The Edmonton Oilers recognized that and Cave was claimed off waivers in January.
Compounding the change all season long up front was injuries on the back end. Chris Breen, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jeremy Lauzon are all key pieces on the back end that missed time due to injury. The only Atlantic Division team to dress more skaters this season than the P-Bruins was the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins with 52 different players. The Penguins missed the playoffs, as did the last place Hartford Wolf Pack. The Wolf Pack were the next closest team to Providence, dressing 43 different skaters.
Mid-Season Tweaks Pay Off for P-Bruins
The 2018-19 version of the Providence Bruins relied on defensive depth and veteran scoring up front to earn a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs. Gemel Smith was acquired off waivers in early December and his acquisition was an important piece of the turnaround. Although only 25 years old, Smith had three AHL seasons under his belt while also appearing in parts of three seasons for the Dallas Stars.
The 2012 fourth-round pick of the Stars immediately improved the power play as shooting threat, but Smith also brought relentless effort and physicality to the lineup. With Smith on board, the P-Bruins started to really take off in January when Paul Carey was acquired in a trade for defenseman Cody Goloubef. Providence was able to address a need in a swap of AHL veterans. Depth on defense made Goloubef expendable for a point-per-game player of Carey’s caliber.
Carey took off in a Providence sweater, tallying 22 goals and 11 assists in 30 games after the trade. For a team that still finished 19th in scoring, there’s little doubt Carey’s ability to find the back of the net was the difference in Providence becoming a playoff team. You can throw NHL veteran Lee Stempniak into the group of midseason acquisitions that will need to continue to create offense and capitalize on opportunities for playoff success.
When playing at their best, Providence has been a difficult team to break down. A low scoring series in the upcoming best-of-five with the Charlotte Checkers would suit them well. The Atlantic Division-winning Checkers lost just 17 games in regulation, and netminder Alex Nadeljkovic was the 2018-19 Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award winner for the league’s most outstanding goalie. It will be a tough task, but that’s been the P-Bruins’ comfort zone this season.