First Posted: 5/9/2013
Although the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Providence Bruins have only faced each other eight times over the last five years, there is no shortage of storylines just waiting to play out when the two teams open their Eastern Conference Semifinals series tonight in Rhode Island.
What will happen when two similarly strong defensive teams square off in a seven game series? Do the Penguins have a bit of added motivation to knock off the top team in the AHL? Will the Penguins be able to rattle Bruins rookie goaltender Niklas Svedberg? Will they be able to keep long-time nemesis Chris Bourque in check?
We'll find out soon enough, but here's some insight from Penguins' players and coaches as to how those questions will be answered.
Providence's 183 goals against in the regular season is second only to the Penguins' total of 178. What's it going to be like playing against one of the few teams that can compare defensively?
“The little things are going to be magnified. We both play similar styles so I wouldn't expect it to be too high-scoring. We need to keep doing all the little stuff that we've been doing the last two months to have success against this team.” - winger Chris Collins
“They're strong defensively and they also have four lines that can get the job done, just like we can. There's not a ton of variation between what each team brings to the table, so it's just a matter whichever teams sticks to their game will get the wins.” - defenseman Dylan Reese
Providence had the best regular season record and the most points in the league. Does facing the top team give you added motivation to knock them off?
“I think so. We had a couple of really close games against them this year, and it will be a little added motivation that they're number and we can knock them off.” - winger Bobby Farnham
Bruins netminder Niklas Svedberg won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award for the league's top goaltender this season. Still, Svedberg is a rookie. Does that matter?
“Not at this point. He's proven himself and just got through a tough series against Hershey. For me personally, he's a good goalie and I wouldn't even think twice about him being a rookie.” - Collins
“He's proven he can play in this league, and he struggled a little bit in the past series so we need to get to him early in games one and two and try to rattle his confidence a little bit. The playoffs are different. You see in the NHL the goalies this year, a lot are struggling. You get guys that give up a couple goals and their confidence isn't what it was. If we can do that it will only help.” - Reese
Over the last five seasons - most with Hershey - Chris Bourque has scored 14 goals and 50 points in 39 games against Penguins. How big of a threat is he with the Bruins?
“We have to pay attention to Chris. He's a dynamic player, yet not the only one on their team. We do have to be aware of him when he's on the ice,” - head coach John Hynes
The Penguins have only played the Bruins eight times over the last five years. What's it going to be like playing a postseason game in the Dunkin Donuts Center?
“It's a great place to play and it's a great hockey area. When I was there (2007-2008) we were the number one seed as well. Had a great team that year and when you have a good season like that, the fans expect you to have a good playoff run. It's going to be an intense and crazy atmosphere.” - Collins
Providence has depth throughout all four of its lines, and scored a robust 222 goals in the regular season, led by Jamie Tardif (30 goals) and Craig Cunningham (25 goals). Rookie Ryan Spooner led the team with 57 points in 59 games and veteran Chris Bourque registered 38 points in 39 games. Second-year pro Carter Camper leads the team in postseason scoring with five goals and eight points in five games.
The Penguins had five players with at least 20 goals in the regular season, although Derek Nesbitt registered all 26 of his goals with Peoria. Still, their depth has shown in the postseason with five players recording three points during the sweep over Binghamton. The top line of Riley Holzapfel, Trevor Smith and Chad Kolarik have all produced, while rookie Jayson Megna and Zach Sill have also stepped up.
Advantage - Even.
Penguins coach John Hynes mentioned the Bruins' depth on defense - they have guys that can score and guys that can protect their own zone. As far as the scoring part, Providence blueliners are led by Torey Krug, who had 13 goals and 45 points in his rookie season to finish fourth among AHL defensemen. Matt Bartkowski recorded 24 points in 56 games, and both he and Krug have continued to produce in the postseason. The Bruins blueline is also anchored by the physical Garnet Exelby and Kevin Miller.
For the Penguins, Brian Dumoulin continued to impress in the postseason series against Binghamton, posting two assist and a plus-3 rating. Dylan Reese is the top offensive threat on the blueline, while veteran Joey Mormina and youngsters Philip Samuelsson, Alex Grant and rookie Reid McNeill provide a steadying presence in their own end.
Advantage - Providence. A nice blend of offensive upside, physical play and strong in their own zone.
Niklas Svedberg may be just a rookie, but the Bruins netminder was also named the top goaltender in the AHL during the regular season with a 2.17 goals against average, a .925 save percentage and 37 wins. He stumbled a bit in his first postseason so far (3.52 GAA, .887 save percentage), but he did stop enough shots to send his team to the second round, including a 24-save performance in a 3-2 win over Hershey in the deciding Game 5.
If numbers are your thing, Penguins netminder Jeff Zatkoff can match up with anyone in the league. He led the AHL with a 1.93 GAA and had a strong .920 save percentage. In the postseason, Zatkoff was brilliant, allowing four goals on 73 shots before sitting out Game 3 with food poisoning. Veteran backup Brad Thiessen stepped in stopped 19-of-21 shots to close out the series.
Advantage - Slight edge to the Penguins. Svedberg was superb in the regular season, but so was Zatkoff. And he still is. Thiessen gives the Penguins added depth as well.
Player to watch
For the Bruins, Bourque is an obvious choice, but Bobby Robins might be the player the Penguins want to watch… or avoid. The physical winger led the AHL with over 300 penalty minutes this season and he already has 26 in the postseason. Robins only had four goals and 11 points in the regular season, but in two games against the Penguins he had a goal and an assist, along with 24 PIMs.
Derek Nesbitt is due to breakout for the Penguins. The 26-goal scorer acquired from Peoria late in the season has yet to find the back of the net as a Penguin, but during the Binghamton series he and Brian Gibbons have shown glimpses of a chemistry developing. Nesbitt could be dangerous.
Prediction - Penguins in seven. Svedberg may be in danger of losing his regular season form, and the Penguins have plenty of firepower to take advantage of a goaltender with confidence issues. Zatkoff has been stellar against the Bruins throughout his career, but the Penguins defense will be tested against a Bruins' attack that has scoring threats through the top four lines and on defense.
He said it…
“Anytime you get to this point in the playoffs, every team is good. There are no Cinderella stories. We're playing a team that's been very consistent throughout the year and it's going to be a good challenge.” - Penguins head coach John Hynes