The only difference between the two starting goaltenders for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins first-round playoff series against the Providence Bruins might be the uniforms.
Penguins rookie Casey DeSmith and Bruins netminder Zane McIntyre both dominated the AHL this season, finishing first and second in goals against average and save percentage.
And the similarities don’t end there.
DeSmith played in 29 games and McIntyre appeared in 31. McIntyre had two shutouts while DeSmith had one, and they each won 21 games.
So what’s the key to breaking a virtual stalemate between both teams’ netminders?
The consensus among the Penguins is they have to get traffic in front of McIntyre’s crease.
“(McIntyre) is going to make the first save,” head coach Clark Donatelli said. “We’re going to have to jump on rebounds, get tips, fight and get in front of the net and take his eyes away.”
Compared to the rest of the league, the Penguins had pretty good success against McIntyre during the regular season. In four games they beat him twice, but they needed good goaltending of their own to do it as McIntyre held the Penguins to two goals in three games.
DeSmith is ready to do his part as the Penguins offense works to beat McIntyre. The rookie netminder finds himself in a similar situation to last year when Tristan Jarry went up to Pittsburgh down the stretch. DeSmith took over the starting role and played stellar, backstopping the Penguins to a series win over Providence and taking them to seven games before losing the second-round series to Hershey.
With Jarry up in Pittsburgh again this season, DeSmith was superb down the stretch again, holding opponents to two goals or less in his last eight games. In six of those contests, DeSmith didn’t allow more than one goal.
“It’s kind of funny how it worked out like that again this season,” DeSmith said. “I’m happy to have the opportunity to take over like I did last year. To be involved in the playoffs is a privilege.”
While DeSmith finished the regular season as the top goalie in the AHL, he actually established himself as a top netminder during last year’s postseason series against the Bruins. While the Penguins swept Providence in the three games, every contest went into overtime, including the series clincher that needed two extra periods to determine a winner.
DeSmith stopped 59 of 63 shots in the Game 3 marathon, and Donatelli said that was the game that propelled him into the upper echelon of AHL goaltenders.
“It’s a game I’ll never forget,” DeSmith said. “Double overtime and winning in the fashion we did to sweep the series was one of the most exciting times of the year. It gives me a good feeling going into this year’s playoffs.”
In that same game, McIntyre was pulled after the second period, allowing four goals on 13 shots.
The Penguins aren’t counting on another McIntyre collapse, and DeSmith is ready to do battle with the league’s other top netminder.
“It’s a couple guys at the top of the stat sheet,” he said. “It should be a pretty low-scoring series, I hope.”
Warsofsky on the other side
David Warsofsky was a member of the Bruins when they faced the Penguins in the 2013 and 2014 postseason.
Facing his old team for the first time in the playoffs, and in Providence, will be different, he said.
“I’ve been on the other side playing against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and we had two really good playoff series. It will be fun,” Warsofsky said. “If we can go into their barn and at least get one win and come home for three, it will help us out a lot.”
Sundqvist light on postseason experience
Oskar Sundqvist has only appeared in one AHL playoff game — with the Penguins in 2015. He appeared in two playoff games with Pittsburgh last season during their Stanley Cup championship, but other than that Sundqvist hasn’t logged many postseason games since he played in Sweden.
“It’s the most fun time of the year and I’m excited to play in the playoffs again,” he said. “I think this team can be something special.”
D Barry Goers (concussion protocol) practiced for the first time on Thursday and said he felt good. “I’ve been hoping and praying I’d start to feel normal again. I feel normal again,” he said. Donatelli said Goers will be available for the first round, but wasn’t sure if he would return for Game 1 or Game 2.
Zach Aston-Reese remains out with an upper body injury and won’t play in Game 1. Donatelli said his status for the rest of the series is unknown.