Saturday, April 14, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 14

1995: The P-Bruins claim Game 1 of their first round series with the defending champion Portland Pirates, usurping a 6-5 decision at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Tim Sweeney’s hat trick fuels the winning effort.

2001: After losing each of their previous five playoff games, all to Hartford no less, the P-Bruins pick up their winning ways where they had left off on Jeff Wells’ overtime goal 11 months prior. Andre Savage scores his third overtime goal as a P-Bruin to finalize a 5-4 win and force Game 4 in the New England Division Semifinals. Ironically, Savage’s decider goes in off the body of former Providence defenseman Terry Virtue, who had eliminated his old friends the previous year with a sudden-death bouncer off the blade of Peter Ferraro.

2007: Ben Walter assists on both goals and Hannu Toivonen stops all 22 of Springfield’s shots as part of a 2-0 win at MassMutual Center.

Friday, April 13, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 13

2000: Antti Laaksonen scores his second game-winner in as many nights, converting 34 seconds into double-overtime for a 4-3 win over the Quebec Citadelles, sculpting a 2-0 series lead in the Atlantic Division Semifinals.

2001: John Grahame’s 38-save effort falls short in the win column as the Hartford Wolf Pack reap a 2-1 decision and take a commanding 2-0 series lead on the P-Bruins in the New England Division Semifinals.

2007: Nate DiCasmirro breaks a 3-3 tie with 3:02 to spare in regulation, finalizing a 4-3 win at Worcester’s DCU Center.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

P-Bruins’ Future Begins Early In Final Weekend Of 2011-12

The Providence Bruins can and should accept only one rerun of 2010-11. But they can take one.

As he was for the final weekend of last year’s regular season, high-ranking Boston prospect Ryan Spooner is on hand for a valuable blade-whetting twirl at the AHL level. Ditto a host of fellow late-season additives out of the Canadian major junior and U.S. college ranks.

Although the race is not yet mathematically lost, it is safe to assume Bruce Cassidy’s first season as head coach will virtually Xerox his last as Rob Murray’s assistant. An atrocious start will make the subsequent vain cramming session just that en route to a Calder Cup playoff no-show.

The P-Bruins, currently No. 11 in the Eastern Conference, cannot afford to miss more than one out of six possible points this weekend if they are to garner bonus action in 2012. And that’s assuming the eighth-place Portland Pirates simultaneously lose their two remaining games in regulation while the Manchester Monarchs and Adirondack Phantoms stall.

And yes, when the Bruins were still writhing like a diver in a rogue fishnet circa New Year’s, this author was among those pronouncing Cassidy a one-and-done skipper. Old patterns were signaling the need for a complete change in coaching personnel if Providence was to stop its playoff drought at four years in 2013.

But upon further review, it is worth giving one more look at the man who worked with Murray to succeed Scott Gordon and take a 2008-09 team bolstered by Tuukka Rask, Johnny Boychuk, Brad Marchand and Adam McQuaid to the Eastern Conference finals.

All Cassidy will need is a relative modicum of offseason turnover and more consistent padded personnel in 2012-13. Cassidy must prove that he and his pupils have learned how to weather adversity next season, but a little more seasoning that will come naturally and a little less of an injury bug ought to help.

Of those who figure to be with the team this weekend who were here for opening night Oct. 7, 16 individual skaters have combined to lose 297 AHL man-games to injury or promotion to Boston. The three most noteworthy have been veteran forward Stefan Chaput (62 missed games), captain Trent Whitfield (25), sophomore blueliner Matt Bartkowski (23) and second-year scorer Max Sauve (37).

Of those who have a contract with the parent club through next season, as many as 19 project to see the majority of next season in the AHL. That includes Spooner, fellow OHL winger Jared Knight and the newly signed defenseman Tommy Cross.

Between this April and a brief icebreaker last spring, Spooner has already logged a point in four out of five AHL games. And, at least in the eyes of Hockey’s Future, he is the second-best up-and-coming Bruins forward behind Knight. Both will finally be eligible to join the AHL full-time next autumn.

Cross, who just captained Boston College to its second NCAA championship in his four-year career. His own substantive injury history may now be a comfortably distant memory and his next step will be to validate his position as the third-ranked rising Boston blueliner behind Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton.

And between Cross, Michigan’s Luke Glendening and Michigan State’s Torey Krug, the Bruins have three late-season signees who are fresh of wearing the “C” for their respective college teams.

Glendening may or may not be back after his amateur tryout. But Krug, who went straight from the Spartans to the NHL at the tail-end of March, figures to meet congested traffic behind established Boston defensemen.

A total of 10 Providence players are set to hit free agency come July 1: Jamie Arniel, Bartkowski, Andrew Bodnarchuk, Chaput, goaltender Adam Courchaine, Zach Hamill, Lane MacDermid, Nathan McIver and Zach McKelvie.

Based simply on their longevity, it’s hard to envision Hamill or Bodnarchuk returning for a fifth year in the Divine City. The former will be easier to part with given his failure to grow into his No. 7 overall draft pick’s frame while the potential departure of Bodnarchuk, as well as McIver, would deal a blow to an already unripe defense.

Arniel’s egregious inconsistency in his third professional season does not set the right tone to earn an extension with the Black and Gold. But assuming Knight and Spooner make the impact expected of them and jell in with rising sophomores Carter Camper, Craig Cunningham and Calle Ridderwall and veterans like Sauve, Jamie Tardif and Whitfield, Arniel should be comfortably expendable.

Hennessy and Chaput are also uncertainties, but based on the impression he made in his handful of NHL appearances last month, MacDermid ought to be extended. And the third-year fan favorite should still see the bulk of his action in Providence for the indefinite future.

The same would apply to Khudobin in net, assuming both Rask and Tim Thomas are back in Boston. But Michael Hutchinson has something to build upon with a 2.35 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 27 appearances.

Accordingly, while Khudobin continues to play his emergency role in Boston, Hutchinson should play at least two, if not all three games this weekend. And all those playing in front of him should be newbies under contract and, with a few exceptions, established P-Bruins who are not pending UFAs or RFAs.

Last year’s 5-1-0 run through April and three-game sweep of the final weekend was ultimately a tease for, in part, reasons detailed above. But with the likes of Spooner and Cross coming to stay and Knight soon to follow, Cassidy and Co. deserve one last mulligan.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 12

1996: In their final regular-season home game and with two more on the road, the P-Bruins muster a vital victory over the Carolina Monarchs, who are the only threat to their playoff spot.

2000: Four different goal-scorers give the P-Bruins a 4-1 win over Quebec in Game 1 of the Atlantic Division Semifinals.

2006: Nine individual point-getters help Providence delete initial 1-0 and 2-1 deficits before topping the host Manchester Monarchs, 4-2.

2008: With his college career finished, University of New Hampshire senior Kevin Regan travels a half-hour away from campus to make his P-Bruins debut against Manchester. He turns away all 23 shots-faced and keeps his mates in the game until they erupt for three goals within the final 3:08 of regulation to claim a 3-0 victory at Verizon Wireless Arena.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bruins Puckbag: An Assortment of Observations on Boston and Providence

The Hockey News, which understandably favored Washington to win the Stanley Cup at the start of this season, is now picking the seventh-seeded Caps to dethrone the defending champion Bruins in the opening round. One of the three NHL columnists at Yahoo! Sports, namely Sam McCaig, is likewise predicting the upset.

As for this author, I see Boston repressing the resurgent Caps in six or seven on the strength of superior depth and goaltending, but the likely opponent in the conference semifinals will be the potent Pittsburgh Penguins. And let’s just say whoever comes out of the Rangers-Penguins matchup in the conference final ought to be the favorite to win the Cup.

In case of a postseason emergency, the likes of forward Lane MacDermid should be a go-to Black Ace. His physicality makes him blend right into the fourth line and is an indispensable trait in the playoffs.

The P-Bruins, currently No. 11 on the Eastern Conference leaderboard need too much help from other games in the final weekend of the AHL season to salvage their playoff hopes. First-year coach Bruce Cassidy could earn a second try on the grounds of a second-half turnaround. But if this sequence of an insufferable start and a vain cramming session happens again next year, much like it did in 2010-11 under former higher-up Rob Murray, he should be gone by this time in 2013.

Fun fact: In his NHL coaching career, Claude Julien has never participated in a playoff series that only lasted five games. Between his lone playoff run with Montreal in 2004 and his first four behind the Boston bench, he has been a part of three sweeps, one six-game bout and seven Game Sevens.

The Bruins just announced that their commemorative 2011 championship book will soon be on the shelves of libraries across New England.

Top prospect Dougie Hamilton leads all defensemen with nine assists and 11 points so far in the Ontario League playoffs. Hamilton’s Niagara Ice Dogs will have a chance to sweep the Brampton Battalion tomorrow night and advance to the OHL’s Eastern Conference final.

Over in the OHL’s Western Conference, Jared Knight and London Knights lead the Saginaw Spirit, two games to one, in their conference semifinal series.

If Kevan Miller, who leads his fellow P-Bruins by no fewer than 14 points in the plus/minus column, is not named the team’s top defenseman this weekend, there is no justice. Kyle MacKinnon and Calle Ridderwall could both legitimately challenge Miller for rookie of the year accolades.

Craig Cunningham, another first-year pro, may be the only P-Bruin to have seen action in every game this season. He may be co-leader on the team with 19 goals and third in the point department with 35. But as evidenced by a minus-nine rating, his defensive aptitude isn’t up to the same par as MacKinnon, Ridderwall and certainly Miller.

Consistency counts when it comes to selecting a recipient for virtually any award. There was not much of that to be found in any individual Providence player this season, but I would say this year’s MVP should be split by goaltenders Anton Khudobin and Michael Hutchinson. Khudobin had to bail out one of the league’s flimsiest defenses when he was available while Hutchinson has actually accrued better numbers when filling in.

The most beneficial aspect of the concussed Nathan Horton sitting out for Boston’s playoff run is that he can put his mind at ease in every sense of the word. The fact that he is not under the impression that he will be permitted, let alone expected to take up any strenuous activity this spring should help his recovery all the more.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 11

1997: The P-Bruins win their eighth and final confrontation with the short-lived Carolina Monarchs, stamping a 2-1 victory at the Civic Center.

1999: AHL MVP Randy Robitaille surpasses Tim Sweeney for the team’s most productive single season by notching his 97th point as the P-Bruins finish a home-and-home sweep of the Pirates in Providence. As part of the 4-3 triumph, Peter Ferraro inserts the team’s 2,000th all-time goal.

2010: A 6-3 P-Bruins loss to the Lowell Devils ends the team’s season and also constitutes the final AHL regular-season game played at Tsongas Arena. The Massachusetts city ends a consistent 12-year presence in the league that summer as the Devils transfer their prospects back to Albany.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 10

1994: The playoff no-show P-Bruins finish their second season strong with a 5-2 home victory over Rochester. Tod Hartje becomes the first P-Bruin to have suited up for all 80 games in a regular season.

1998: Cameron Mann singlehandedly outscores the Albany River Rats, 2-0, in the home finale of an otherwise wretched 1997-98 season. Meanwhile, league-leading goon Aaron Downey becomes the first P-Bruin to have served more than 400 minutes of penalty time in a season.

1999: In the brief return of goaltender Paxton Schafer, Peter Ferraro scores twice, including the sudden-death strike for a 4-3 road win over Portland.

2004: A 37-save effort by Tim Thomas gives him his ninth shutout of the season and the P-Bruins a rare 0-0 tie with the Worcester IceCats.

2005: Dan LaCouture scores the game-winner to help Providence avert a three-game, no-point weekend and edge the Hartford Wolf Pack, 2-1, at The Dunk. In addition, Brad Boyes scores his team-record 20th power-play goal of the season.

2011: The P-Bruins finish their second straight non-playoff season on a high note, winning their third game in as many days with a 3-2 edging of Manchester. All three Providence goals come in the first period and goaltender Anton Khudobin stops 34 out of 36 shots in the final 40 minutes, including 24 in the third for a game-total of 41 saves.

Monday, April 9, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 9

1993: In the regular-season finale of their first campaign, the P-Bruins win their final confrontation with the Capital District Islanders, 5-4, in overtime.

1995: Reacquired forward Tim Sweeney, who had been in Anaheim since the belated start to the NHL season, sets a promising tone for his role in the playoffs with two goals and two assists to help top Springfield, 6-5, in the regular-season finale. Meanwhile, Brett Harkins becomes the second player in team history to dress for all 80 games in a single regular season.

1999: Prior to the game, Peter Laviolette is bestowed with the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s best coach while Randy Robitaille is declared the league’s MVP. Afterwards, both Jeremy Brown and Peter Ferraro score a shorthanded goal as the P-Bruins clinch the regular-season championship with a 5-4 home win over Hartford.

2000: The P-Bruins finish the regular season having dressed a league-record 70 players over the course of 80 games. Jeremy Brown becomes the third player in franchise history to have played each game in a single season. Providence firefighter Rob Gribbin suits up as an emergency backup goaltender, just as he had done for one night during the inaugural season, when he played for eight minutes. This time, though, he watches the whole game from the bench as starter David Brumby backstops a 2-1 overtime win over Hartford. Mark DeSantis’ walkoff goal snaps the team’s eight-game losing streak.

2004: After being named the Team MVP, goaltender Tim Thomas adds to his franchise-record collection of shutouts, holding off the Springfield Falcons, 3-0, in the regular-season home finale.

2006: Ben Walter assists on all three of Tyler Redenbach’s goals as part of a five-goal, second-period outburst en route to a 6-1 home win over Springfield.

2008: With a 6-1 win at Worcester, highlighted by Zach Hamill’s playmaker hat trick, the P-Bruins clinch their second Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s regular-season champions. In addition, head coach Scott Gordon joins Peter Laviolette among P-Bruins bench bosses to receive the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL’s best coach.

2010: Facing virtually inevitable elimination from playoff contention with a three-game weekend still to come, the P-Bruins send their frustrated fan base to the summer on a high note. They delete two one-goal deficits before topping the Springfield Falcons, 3-2, on Kirk MacDonald’s second overtime goal in as many games.

2011: Kyle MacKinnon, a Providence College senior on an amateur tryout, scores the go-ahead goal with 4:07 remaining in regulation, and only 51 seconds after the Springfield Falcons had ties the game, to finalize a 3-2 win at MassMutual Center.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 8

1994: The P-Bruins lose their final meeting with the Hamilton Canucks, 3-1, at the Copps Coliseum.

2009: Fueled by 12 individual point-getters, the P-Bruins bump the Lowell Devils, 5-2, at Tsongas Arena.

2011: The visiting Portland Pirates sculpt a 2-0 lead within 50 seconds early in the second period. But by period’s end, the P-Bruins are leading, 3-2, with Jordan Caron singlehandedly drawing and breaking a 2-2 tie. In the third, Zach Hamill and Stefan Chaput take turns assisting on each other’s goals for a 5-2 lead, which eventually morphs into a 5-4 Providence victory.