WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Game 3 of the Atlantic Division semifinals was exactly what Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli expected.
Goals were few and far between, special teams were key and Casey DeSmith was stellar in net. It all added up to a 2-1 Penguins win over the Providence Bruins and a 2-1 series lead with a chance to win it on Friday.
“Providence is good defensively. We expected a close game and it was exactly that,” Donatelli said. “Our approach tomorrow is the same. It’s just another game, but it’s an important game.”
DeSmith stopped 32 shots and the Penguins power play struck twice with goals by Tim Erixon and David Warsofsky. In fact, the Bruins scored their lone goal on the power play as all three tallies in the game came with the man advantage.
Erixon’s power play goal late in the second period allowed the Penguins to carry a one goal lead into the third, and Warsofsky’s blast from the top early in the third gave them a two-goal cushion that would be crucial.
“That second goal was huge, getting that little bit of breathing room,” DeSmith said.
The Penguins had the better first period, outshooting the Bruins 13-5 despite spotting Providence two power plays.
The offense continued to click in the second period, generating shots on Bruins goaltender Zane McIntyre consistently.
But it wasn’t until the Penguins’ third power play — late in the period — when they were finally able to beat McIntyre.
Erixon gained the puck in the top of the slot, faked a shot as a Bruins defender slid down for the block and then skated to an open lane for a shot through traffic.
The goal came with 17 seconds left in the period, and the Penguins had 20 minutes to protect a 1-0 lead.
The Bruins unraveled a bit to start the third period after a spirited scrap between Tom Sestito and Tyler Randell seven seconds after the opening faceoff.
Seconds later, Bruins defenseman Alex Grant went to the box for holding, and on the ensuing power play Kevin Porter drew the puck back to Warsofsky, who blasted a shot that beat McIntyre to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead.
“We knew there was a lot of time left. We had to keep going,” Donatelli said. “It wasn’t going to stay 2-0.”
Providence went to the box again less than two minutes later for a faceoff violation, and while the Penguins didn’t score, the power play used up precious time for Providence.
The Bruins made it interesting with less than seven minutes remaining when Josh Archibald went off for a high-sticking double minor, and Providence scored on the second half of the power play to make it 2-1.
“We knew they were going to push hard. When they got that four-minute power play, it was going to be a tough kill so it was nice to have that second goal,” DeSmith said.
In the closing minutes, Providence pulled McIntyre in an attempt to tie it up. But the Penguins defense limited any Bruins chances as the Penguins maintained the lead.
DeSmith said his team’s ability to close the game out was impressive.
“That’s what playoff hockey is — blocking shots, eating pucks in the corner, taking hits and getting the puck out. The little things,” DeSmith said.
Now that the Penguins just need to win one of the next two games — both at home — to clinch the series. And the approach isn’t changing.
“Same as it was tonight,” DeSmith said about the possibility of clinching the series with a Game 4 win on Friday. “That’s always the goal. It’s something to work towards.”