The Providence Bruins were unable to defend home ice against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, meaning the Calder Cup Playoffs first-round matchup will come down to a best-of-three in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Despite the split of two games in Providence, there are a lot of positives for the P-Bruins moving forward into Game 3 on Friday night. Providence looked to be the more dangerous team all weekend, outshooting the Phantoms 77-50 combined over the first two games. With that said, knocking off the Atlantic’s division top team on the road won’t be easy.
P-Bruins Must Remain Disciplined
The P-Bruins should go into the weekend with confidence, they played well enough to win both games. On the other hand, they should have won both and now head to Lehigh Valley in a tied series. The Valley hasn’t been kind to the P-Bruins this season. Providence was 0-for-3 in the three trips to Allentown this year. They are now staring at the reality of needing to win two out of three games on the road to continue their season. A few keys factors in this series could help the P-Bruins pull it off.
Both teams created chances from the power play in the opening two games. While staying out of the penalty box is always important, these two teams have the offensive firepower to make you pay for taking a penalty. The P-Bruins were able to zip the puck around on the man advantage in Game 1 that led to Ryan Fitzgerald’s opening goal.
The numbers may show the P-Bruins were only 1-for-7 in the first game of the series, but they don’t tell the whole story. Phantoms goaltender Alex Lyon bailed his team out. As the cliché goes, the goalie must be the best penalty killer, and Lyon was. Providence created some great chances and gained some momentum off the power play, but were unable to capitalize. Providence would only have three opportunities in Game 2 but capitalized when they needed it the most with Peter Cehlarik picking up the game-winning goal on a third-period power play.
Lehigh Valley used the man advantage to steal Game 1 on the road. The Phantoms scored a pair of power play goals less than a minute apart in the second period. Danick Martel tied the game for Lehigh Valley before Greg Carey scored the eventual game-winner. T.J. Brennan picked up assists on both goals. Brennan remains one of the league’s top blueliners when it comes to running the power play. The P-Bruins will want to keep play 5-on-5 as much as possible on the road to keep Brennan out of his comfort zone.
Coach Jay Leach made a significant move for the P-Bruins after Game 1. Jordan Binnington was given the start in net over Zane McIntyre. McIntyre gave up a goal on what should’ve been a harmless shot in Game 1 to allow the Phantoms to tie the game early. It was a tough goal to surrender to one of the league’s best teams.
Goaltending Key as P-Bruins Head to Valley
Binnington was an AHL All-Star selection this season. He had the better season between the two goalies. McIntyre is the only goalie that is Boston Bruins property on the roster, and it’s possible Leach wanted to give him a chance to take the job. The change almost seemed inevitable after Game 1 and the net should belong to Binnington moving forward.
There’s little doubt who will be between the pipes for the Phantoms. Alex Lyon was spectacular in Game 1, stopping 39 out of 41 shots. While Game 2 was a different story, Lyon still managed to keep his team in the game as they were being outshot and outplayed on the road. He returns to home ice with a .921 save percentage in two playoff games. Binnington had the best regular season numbers of the four goalies involved in the series, but Lyon looks to be locked in for the playoffs.
A positive takeaway from the first two games is Providence simply had the best player on the ice. Austin Czarnik was dominant over the weekend. He’s been the most valuable player for the P-Bruins all season long and Lehigh Valley struggled to match his speed and creativity. Czarnik threatened every time he touched the ice, racking up four assists in two games. The four helpers included a Game 1 highlight-reel feed to Ryan Fitzgerald for an easy tap-in.
AUSTIN CZARNIK PUTTING ON A SHOW!
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) April 21, 2018
The P-Bruins will need Czarnik to spark the offense on the road. They can only afford to lose one out of three games. There’s a good chance Providence will find itself behind or struggling to solve Lyon. Czarnik will need to be a game-breaker to get his team the two wins needed on the road. There will be a moment for Czarnik to pick his team up when they need it most.
The P-Bruins had a rooting interest in a series that didn’t involve their NHL affiliate. They were dealt a blow when the Philadelphia Flyers were knocked out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Reinforcements are now on the way for Lehigh Valley with their NHL affiliate eliminated. Forward Oskar Lindblom and defenseman Travis Sanheim were reassigned by the Flyers. Sanheim especially provides a huge boost to a defensive group that spent too much time in its own zone for much of the weekend.
The situation could be better, the P-Bruins played well enough to earn two home wins. Ideally, Providence would be heading on the road needing only one win. A reinforced Lehigh Valley lineup makes it a tall task. To win, Binnington will have to match Lyon’s play and Providence will have to finish more chances on the power play. The margin of error will be thin to get the wins needed to continue the season.
A life-long follower of the game of hockey. Communications experience with the AHL’S Portland Pirates, and a former coach at the college club level. Covering the Providence Bruins and prospects.