While the Boston Bruins attempt to stave off elimination against the Ottawa Senators on Friday night, the Providence Bruins will begin their 2016-17 Calder Cup Playoff run. Their trek to take home the AHL championship begins at home in Providence, where they’ll take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Here’s a quick look at how the two teams match-up in the opening round:
A quick look at this match-up favors the Penguins, who finished as the AHL’s best regular-season team with a 51-20-3-2 record (.704 point percentage). The Penguins also stole the regular-season series 4-2.
These two are familiar foes in the playoffs – they’ve met in the postseason four of the last five season – and three out of those four times, it’s been the Penguins who have moved on. Needless to say, the Baby Bruins are awfully tired of ending their season at the hands of the Penguins.
“I’m absolutely sick of losing to them,″ said Providence Bruins coach Kevin Dean, per the Providence Journal. “The series are always good and, to (the Penguins’) credit, they always seem to play a little bit harder, a little bit better. We’ve got to flip that somehow.″
Dean, who served as Providence’s assistant coach for five seasons, will have his first shot at taking down the Penguins as head coach.
Both of these teams have balanced offenses that could be shorthanded due to their parent club’s postseason needs.
For starters, neither team is led by one or two superstar scorers. Instead, both sides play a balanced offensive game – neither team had a player finish in the top 20 in goals, assists, or points in the regular season.
Providence was led by 25-year-old Jordan Szwarz, who registered 22 goals and 32 assists for the Bruins. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was led by 38-year-old Tom Kostopoulos, who notched 24 goals and 30 assists.
To kick off the series, the Bruins will be missing Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly due to Boston’s playoff series against Ottawa. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will be without Tristan Jarry, who are also in the midst of the NHL playoff battle.
With brilliant penalty-killing, top-notch goaltending, and solid defensive units, this is shaping up to be a low-scoring series.
The Providence Bruins will be without their captain defenseman Tommy Cross for Game 1, but they could see his return if the NHL squad falls to the Senators.
All in all, the Bruins have been a solid team defensively; they gave up 2.47 goals per game in the regular season.Meanwhile, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins have been a difficult team to score on all year long – they gave up just 2.24 goals per game this season.
On top of that, both teams have excellent backstops in the crease.
Providence will roll with netminder Zane McIntyre, who was stellar in his second AHL season. The Grand Folks, North Dakota native posted a league-leading .930 save percentage in the regular season with a 2.03 goals against average. He carried the Baby Bruins with a 21-6-2 record in goal.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is led by goaltender Casey DeSmith, whose 2.01 goals against average led the league, accompanied by a .926 save percentage and a 21-5-3 record.
The special teams battle in this series could shape up to be a difference-maker – and both teams look awfully similar in this category. Both squads boast top-penalty-kill units and middle-of-the-pack power plays.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton edged out Providence every so slightly to take the crown as the best penalty-killing team in the AHL this season, with an 86.9% efficiency rating while down a man.
— WBS Penguins (@WBSPenguins) April 18, 2017
Providence took home the number two spot with a penalty kill that was effective 86.4% of the time. With two top-notch penalty kill units squaring off, whoever breaks first (or the most often) could certainly play a role in tipping this series.
Meanwhile, it is the Bruins with the slight advantage on the power play, with a 19.1% rating on the man advantage, good enough for 11th in the league. The Penguins’ 17.9% rating was good enough for 14th.
The Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins were the AHL’s best regular-season team, and they’ll be favored against a Providence team that took a shaky 0-3-1 record into the postseason. However, the Penguins could have their hands full pretty quickly, depending on how their opponent’s NHL club does.
With the Boston Bruins on the brink of elimination by the hands of Ottawa, the Providence B’s could see the return of some of their most valuable players soon. If they receive back-up from the NHL roster, then they could put up a very good fight against the AHL’s top club.
Look for the Penguins to come out very hard early in the series – they’re keeping an eye on what’s happening in Boston and Ottawa. Don’t count out Providence – especially if the NHL squad is sent home soon.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!