Saturday, April 28, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 28

2006: Eric Healey converts a penalty shot in the second period and tunes the mesh again in overtime for the team's second straight 5-4 win over Portland, once again averting elimination from the first round of the playoffs.

2008: Martins Karsums scores a hat trick, Pascal Pelletier assists on all three of his goals and another 12 skaters pitch in at least one point to lash Portland, 7-1, at The Dunk. The win gives the regular-season champion P-Bruins a 2-0 lead in the series and a 6-0 start to their playoff run.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Former P-Bruins and Friars Still In the Hunt for the Stanley Cup

Patrice Bergeron, Johnny Boychuk, Jordan Caron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, the injured Adam McQuaid, Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas will not spend the rest of this spring seeking to enhance the Providence Bruins’ fingerprints on the Stanley Cup. They and the rest of their Boston teammates owe that chiefly to themselves and each other, but also in part to two Washington Capitals who once wore the Spoked-P.

But on that note, with the second round of the NHL playoffs now set to commence this weekend there are seven players and one coach with ties to either the P-Bruins or Providence College Friars still with something to play for. Altogether, there are seven former Baby Bs and three Friar alumni, including one crossover in Hal Gill.

The Eastern Conference is guaranteed to move at least one former Providence player to the third round while the two consensus favorites in the West each harbor at least one former P-Bruin.

Here is a brief breakdown of each one-time Divine City puckster still with potential to lay hands on the Holy Grail in 2012.

Hal Gill, defense: Played 131 games in four full seasons at PC, winning a Hockey East championship in 1996. Gill later spent a four-game assignment with Providence during his rookie season as a Bruin in 1997-98.

Brian McGrattan, right wing: Dressed for 39 games with the P-Bruins in the 2010-11 season.

New Jersey
Mark Fayne, defense: Played 139 games, scoring 16 goals and 49 points in four seasons at PC from 2006 to 2010.

Matt Taormina, defense: Posted a 20-45-65 career scoring log in 141 games with the Friars, graduating in 2009. Do note that Taormina put in 30 NHL appearances this season, thus will only be eligible for Cup inscription if he suits up for one game in the finals as part of a winning cause for the Devils.

Peter Laviolette, head coach: Played 252 games in four seasons with the P-Bruins, including one as team captain in 1992-93 and one as player/assistant coach in 1996-97. He later coached Providence to a record-setting regular-season and Calder Cup championship in 1998-99, his first as two seasons as the team’s skipper.

St. Louis
Vladimir Sobotka, center: Collected 34 goals and 74 points over 68 career appearances with the P-Bruins between 2007-08 and 2009-10.

Keith Aucoin, center: Scored 46 goals and 140 points in 150 career games for the P-Bruins. Tied for tenth on the team’s all-time points list and holds sole possession of the No. 10 slot on the P-Bruins’ career leaderboard with 94 assists. 

Matt Hendricks, center: Scored 22 goals and 52 points in 67 games during the 2007-08 season with the P-Bruins.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 27

2006: Eric Healey converts a penalty shot in the second period and tunes the mesh again in overtime for the team’s second straight 5-4 win over Portland, once again averting elimination from the first round of the playoffs. 

2008: Martins Karsums scores a hat trick, Pascal Pelletier assists on all three of his goals and another 12 skaters pitch in at least one point to lash Portland, 7-1, at The Dunk. The win gives the regular-season champion P-Bruins a 2-0 lead in the series and a 6-0 start to their playoff run.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Boston or Providence: Which Bruins Team Met The More Disappointing Ending?

Is a premature ending to one’s playoff run, let alone in defense of one’s championship, really better than no playoff run at all?

Is falling short of a postseason passport for the third year in a row, i.e. failing to raise a bar that had nowhere to go but up, really more merciful than failing to win a single series for the first time in four years?

The Providence Bruins and their parent club from Boston saw their respective seasons end a mere 10 days apart. For the first time since 2006, right before Peter Chiarelli became the organization’s new general manager, neither the AHL nor NHL Bruins will play in May.

Safe to say this was, collectively speaking, the Black and Gold family’s most frustrating finish in recent memory. But who brooked the brunt of the bitter taste?

On the one hand, you had Boston coming into the 2011-12 campaign in the new role of defending champions and certifiable favorites to go deep again. The outlook subsequently fluctuated in accordance with a hangover-laden October, otherworldly November and December, iffy January and February and then a hasty homestretch recovery.

But by April 7, they were repeat Northeast Division champions and raring to defend their crown against a mystery squad from Washington that had similarly traveled to every corner of the high-low spectrum this season.

The Capitals fan base is really in the same position that its New England counterpart was in at this time a year ago. It is starved for a solution to incessant spring shortcomings, especially in Game 7s.

The men in uniform and head coach Dale Hunter, a midseason replacement for Bruce Boudreau, have proven themselves equally bent on clearing that hurdle. But on their end, Claude Julien’s pupils did not do nearly enough to live up to their label and laurels.

As a consequence, a mutually tight-fisted, best-of-seven arm-wrestling bout culminated Wednesday night with Washington taking a 2-1 overtime decision in Game 7 at TD Garden. It marks the earliest end to a Bruins season since Julien’s first year as head coach in 2007-08.

One hour-long Amtrak ride away in Rhode Island, a former Capitals skipper in Bruce Cassidy finished his first year as P-Bruins head coach the same basic way he finished his second and third campaigns as Rob Murray’s assistant. His team treated its rooters to victory in the final home game while knowing that it would, indeed, be the last AHL game at the Dunkin Donuts Center until next October.

But that scenario was hardly what many pundits, and certainly any loyal fans, were expecting this past October. With a foundation built around March 2011 goaltending acquisition Anton Khudobin, the import of such AHL veterans as Josh Hennessy and Jamie Tardif and a new voice behind the bench, the P-Bruins appeared primed for a return to the Calder Cup bracket.

Not to be. Unlike the parent club, the Baby Bs saw their 2011-12 season unfold much like 2010-11, with an unspectacular autumn giving way to a vain cramming session in the second half.

It didn’t help that they were plagued by injuries, costing significant man games to the likes of Tardif, Maxime Sauve, captain Trent Whitfield (a la last year), Nathan McIver, Matt Bartkowski and Andrew Bodnarchuk, just to name a few.

The missed time by the later three was especially detrimental early on as Cassidy was forced to resort to a blue line comprised almost entirely of professional rookies and sophomores. Without the NHL-seasoned McIver and Bodnarchuk, who is now nine career games shy of the franchise record, the P-Bruins set a tone by losing their first three games, all on home ice, by a cumulative score of 15-3.

From there, Providence never skated more than two games above .500 and would finish in the middle of the Eastern Conference’s non-playoff picture.

Boston had its own health problems when the time came for its second season. Clutch scorer and power forward Nathan Horton was officially declared done till next year shortly before the Washington series, having been out of commission since a Jan. 22 concussion.

Backup goaltender Tuukka Rask saw his last lick of game action on March 3, when he went down with a lower-body injury. That, combined with Khudobin’s own ailment, forced the Bruins to acquire Marty Turco for the mere sake of giving Tim Thomas the breathers he needed in advance of the playoffs.

Thomas looked relatively unaffected by his heavier-than-desired workload once he engaged Washington’s Braden Holtby in a seven-part arm-wrestling match. But for multiple reasons, especially an underachieving power play and quiet top-six scorers, the Bruins strike force could not mollify the Capitals’ rookie.

Game 7 was even tougher without faceoff connoisseur Patrice Bergeron’s specialty service. The alternate captain and longest-tenured Bruins skater was openly playing through an injury that forced him to play wing rather than center and very likely prevented him from burying a would-be winner in overtime.

Still, the rest of the team could have done more to overcome that hindrance or even prevent it from happening (Bergeron appeared to sustain his pain during Game 5).

Could Cassidy’s pupils have done more to surmount the injury-induced adversity they endured over the last six-and-a-half months? Even more so than Boston could have defied its problems?

That question is likely the key to answering the title question as to which Bruins team left more on the table in 2011-12.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 26

1995: After the team goes scoreless through the first 40 minutes, they erupt in the third period and Mikko Makela inserts the series-clinching strike as the P-Bruins take Game 7 from the Portland Pirates, 6-3.

1997: The P-Bruins become the fourth team in AHL history to surmount a two-games-to-none deficit and win a best-of-five playoff series. They take the rubber game and the New England Division Semifinals by identical 3-2 scores against the host Worcester IceCats.

2000: Andre Savage scores his second consecutive game-winner, deciding a 3-1 win over Lowell that gives Providence a 3-0 series lead in the Atlantic Division Finals.

2008: With 28 saves, Tuukka Rask records his second AHL playoff shutout as the P-Bruins pace themselves to a 4-0 victory over Portland in Game 1 of the division finals.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Post-game Pop-ups: Yankees 8, PawSox 6

Swift summation
The long ball could only go such a long way to advance the Pawtucket Red Sox’ cause Wednesday afternoon.

After collecting five unanswered runs within the first three innings, all by virtue of home runs, the PawSox puffed out on offense and let the visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees whittle their way back.

By the top of the ninth, Garrett Mock came on with the simple task of salvaging a 5-4 triumph. Instead, he loaded the bases with no outs and then surrendered the lead by virtue of Francisco Cervelli’s two-run base hit.

Between Mock and Chorye Spoone, the Yanks batted around in the top of the ninth and added an additional two runs, one from Steve Pearce’s sacrifice fly immediately after Colin Curtis stole third and the other from Brandon Laird’s single that brought Cervelli home from second base.

The Sox nearly played at the exact same game in the bottom half, filling the bags with three outs to spare and Daniel Nava bound for the batter’s box. His sacrifice fly would bring home Tony Thomas to reduce the deficit to 8-6, but Scranton closer Kevin Whelan then found a long-elusive solution to Mauro Gomez and Will Middlebrooks.

Back-to-back strikeouts to the two hot hitters finalized the Yankees’ 8-6 victory at McCoy Stadium and denied the Sox what would have been their first 10-game winning streak in franchise history.

The heart of the batting lineup stopped beating just when it was needed most. Quite the contrast to the tone it set in Wednesday’s early stages.

Each of the first five Pawtucket batters to challenge Yankees’ hurler Adam Warren pushed the ball beyond the infield. After a pair of flyouts to straightaway center, three unanswered two-out hits from the bottom of the order opened up the scoring.

Nava dropped a single to the opposite field in shallow left, then came home when Gomez belted a 2-2 pitch over the right field wall for a 2-0 advantage. The equally radiant Middlebrooks followed up with a single, though he would be stranded to end the first.

Pedro Ciriaco would lead off the third with his own blast over the left field fence. Four batters later, Nava was taken home again, this time by Middlebrooks, whose homer to right-center augmented the edge to 5-0.

PawSox starter Doug Mathis made it through 3.1 innings without surrendering a hit, but suddenly found his five-run cushion shriveled down to two on the Yanks second hit of the day. A walk and a single set up designated hitter Jack Cust’s three-run dinger in the top of the fourth to make it 5-3, Pawtucket, in the fourth.

Curtis brought Scranton to within one in the top of the fifth by lining a two-out single to center, stealing second and hustling home via Francisco Cervelli’s own base hit.

Reliever Andrew Miller faced a toe-curling predicament in the top of the sixth when Scranton put two men in scoring position and Ramiro Pena sculpted a 3-0 advantage in his at-bat. But upon looking at three unanswered strikes, Pena and the Pinstripes saw their threat evaporate.

Rich Hill and Will Inman each did enough to repress the Yanks in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. But once the ball was handed to Mock, he made a regular mockery of the bullpen.

PawSox pluses
Middlebrooks has now homered six times in his last eight games and remains tied with Gomez for the team lead with 13 extra-base hits apiece.

Nava went 3-for-4 and has now scored at least one run in each of his last five games. In addition, after splashing a six-game hitting drought on April 18, he has since hit safely in five of his last six outings.

Centerfielder Josh Kroeger joined the afternoon’s multi-hit club with singles in the third and the eighth, but was left hanging on deck in the ninth.

Sox stains
Mock’s blown save―15 balls out of 33 pitches, three walks and three runs allowed―kind of speaks for itself. And the prom night pimple on his game log sticks out all the more given that he had surrendered no runs in any of his previous five appearances in 2012.

Mathis virtually maxed out his pitch count prematurely, in part, due to a greater number of balls than most any PawSox partisan would have preferred. He was finished after five full innings of work, which saw him throw 53 of 91 offerings for strikes.

Andrew Miller was not much better in the sixth, throwing 12 out of 22 pitches for balls. The reason the Yankees threatened in that inning was because Miller had walked Cust, hit Laird and allowed both to escape to scoring position on a wild pitch.

Jose Iglesias finished this brief, two-game series 0-for-7 at the plate.

Yankees notes
Adam Miller and Chase Whitley successively pitched a 1-2-3 inning of relief in the sixth and the seventh, respectively, striking out one Pawtucket batter apiece. Whitley returned for the eighth and benched Mike Rivera on three unanswered strikes for another 1-2-3 shift.

Pearce was the only Scranton hitter not to strike out at any point on Wednesday.

Before his insurance single in the ninth, Laird’s batting log for the day consisted of two strikeouts and two hits-by-pitch.

PawSox right fielder Alex Hassan reached base twice without registering a hit. He was hit by a pitch in the third and walked in the fifth.

Before they commence their road trip with a wraparound weekend in Columbus, Thursday will be an off-day for the Sox, their last before May 23, barring any weather-induced impediments to their schedule.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 25

2005: The P-Bruins snap a five-game playoff winless streak  home ice by thrashing the top dog Manchester Monarchs, 6-3, and taking a 2-1 series lead in the Atlantic Division Semifinals.

2006: Nate Robinson has a hand in all five goals, including his overtime strike that beats the Portland Pirates, 5-4, and averts a sweep in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Post-game Pop-ups: PawSox 4, Yankees 3

Swift summation
It turns out the top-notch pitching banquet dished up by Pawtucket’s Brandon Duckworth and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s D.J. Mitchell was little more than the appetizer for the McCoy Stadium masses Tuesday night.

Duckworth brooked his big blemish of the night immediately after a 1-2-3 first inning and would be finished by the end of the fourth. Mitchell made it through six innings, but not before a perfect-game bid devolved into a 4-2 deficit all within the PawSox’ half of the fourth.

Josh Kroeger’s double, which nudged Will Middlebrooks home from third, completed that momentary, yet decisive eruption as the Sox held on for a 4-3 triumph. The win gives the IL-leading PawSox a 15-5 record and a nine-game winning streak, tying a franchise record.

Brandon Laird put the Yanks on top, 2-0, sending his first home run of the year to left field with Steve Pearce aboard second base.

Designated hitter Daniel Nava cut the deficit to 2-1, leading off the fireworks fourth with his own blast to right-center. Three batters later, cleanup man Mauro Gomez picked up Ryan Lavarnway on the way home to usurp a 3-2 lead for the PawSox.

A subsequent triple by Middlebrooks and double via Kroeger augmented the advantage to 4-2 with still two outs to spare. Pawtucket would fall one Tony Thomas plate appearance shy of batting around in the frame.

Alex Wilson, who abruptly switched roles with Duckworth prior to what was supposed to be his start, allowed Laird to cut the deficit to 4-3 in the seventh, his only inning of relief work. Laird led off with a single, hustled to third on Ramiro Pena’s own base hit, then scored on Doug Bernier’s sacrifice fly.

But that would be all the Baby Pinstripes could muster. Rich Hill and ex-Yankee Mark Melancon each stranded a runner in their respective innings, Melancon striking out three for his first save in Sox attire.

PawSox pluses
Pitching coach Rich Sauveur did his part to neutralize the mental storms that crept up on his pupils, paying one visit apiece to Duckworth and first reliever Clayton Mortensen. It patently paid off for Mortensen when he hit two of his first three adversaries in the top of the sixth, then struck out two straight after Sauveur sat back down to quell the threat.

Middlebrooks demonstrated equal doses of patience at the plate with two walks as well as gusto within the base paths. In addition to giving the PawSox their insurance run in the fourth by way of a triple and subsequent score, he aggressively sought more insurance in the bottom of the eighth. He stole second base after a one-out walk and then drew a pickoff attempt while in scoring position.

Sox stains
One of the reasons Middlebrooks could not constitute the team’s fifth run was because Che-Hsuan left him along with Kroeger stranded with an inning-ending pop-up to third base. After hitting safely in eight of his previous eleven outings and coming off a double in each half of Monday’s doubleheader, Lin went 0-for-4 on Monday.

Lin left a grand total of three runners in scoring position, the others being Kroeger to end the fourth and Middlebrooks to end the sixth. In addition, his batting average has dipped below the Mendoza Line to .193, the lowest among PawSox regulars.

Yankees notes
Laird, Pearce and Pena all had multi-hit outings, combining for seven of the Yankees’ eight total hits on the night. Leadoff man Colin Curtis tacked on the eighth with a vain double in the top of the ninth inning.

One of those who did not so much as reach base at any point was Dewayne Wise. He entered Tuesday night’s action with a league-leading .439 batting average, but was down to .400 upon hitting 0-for-4.

Mitchell, who endured his first loss in three decisions this season, struck out four PawSox and walked two.

Mortensen was credited with the win for a 2-1 record. Wilson and Hill each took credit for their first holds of the year.

Gomez’s homer was his only offensive highlight of the night. He struck out in each of his other plate appearances.

Starting Nine: 9 Notable Facts Entering the PawSox-Yankees Series

The International League-leading, 14-5 PawSox will host a brief, two-game set with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon.

With their respective eight- and four-game winning streaks, the Sox and the Yanks are officially the two hottest teams in the IL leading up to their first of 16 encounters in the 2012 season.

Here are nine pregame pop-ups to tune up for Tuesday’s 6:15 p.m. pitch at McCoy Stadium.

·         Both of Scranton’s scheduled starters are returnees from 2011 and have had inverse fortunes against Pawtucket. D.J. Mitchell, slated to toe the rubber on Tuesday, is 3-0 lifetime and went 2-0 against the PawSox last season whereas Wednesday’s starter, Adam Warren, has lost three straight decisions.

·         Mitchell is already 2-0 on the year in 2012 and the only Triple-A Yankees hurler with at least one win and no losses on his tab. He most recently pitched eight innings in a 2-0 victory over Rochester last Tuesday, confining the Red Wings to two hits and striking out seven adversaries.

·         For the second straight series, a team will come into McCoy Stadium bearing the league’s batting average leader. Within the last four days, Durham’s Leslie Anderson has given way to nine other hitters, including two apiece from the PawSox and Yankees. The category’s new leader is Scranton’s Dewayne Wise, who has hit .439 through 11 games and 41 at-bats.

·         Wise is second in the league in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage at .477 and .829, respectively.

·         First baseman Steve Pearce has hit 12-for-27 amidst a seven-game hitting streak for the Yanks. He has also batted in at least one run (seven total) over his last four outings.

·         Former Sox pitcher Manny Delcarmen, already 1-1 and with a 1.93 ERA on the year, was placed on Scranton’s seven-day disabled list this past Friday, meaning he will not be seen by his former rooters in this series.

·         The PawSox went 10-6 overall against the Yankees last season, but split their eight meetings at McCoy. The minor league rivals went an identical 4-4 against each other in Pawtucket during the 2010 season series.

·         Pawtucket has not won the majority of its home games against Scranton since going 6-1 in that matchup during the 2006 season.

·         The 8-8 Yankees have played the fewest games of all IL teams to date, chiefly owing to repeated instances of inclement weather. They managed to get in only half of their four-game wraparound home set with the Norfolk Tides, Monday’s game being called off due to unseasonable snow in Pennsylvania.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 24

1997: Barry Richter prolongs the P-Bruins season for the second consecutive night, slugging home a walkoff goal in double-overtime to finalize a 5-4 home victory and force a deciding Game 5 against Worcester.

1999: The P-Bruins push the IceCats to the brink of a sweep in the New England Division Semifinals, taking Game 2, 3-1, on the strength of Rhode Island native and Brown alum Steven King’s tiebreaking goal.

2007: With a balanced attack led by two-point scorer Jeff Hoggan, the P-Bruins claim a 5-1 win at The Dunk and draw a 2-2 knot in the Atlantic Division semifinals against Hartford. 

2009: With a 2-1, Game 5 victory over Portland at The Dunk, the P-Bruins advance to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs for the third year in a row.

Monday, April 23, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 23

1995: A three-point night for Tim Sweeney and four-point performance by Brett Harkins highlights a 5-4 win in Portland that pushes the P-Bruins to the brink of abolishing the defending Calder Cup champions.

1997: Barry Richter breaks a 2-2 tie for the eventual winner in a pivotal 4-2 win over the Worcester IceCats in Game 3 of the New England Divison Semifinals.

1999: Eric Nickulas’ shorthanded goal proves to be the game-winner as the P-Bruins open a promising playoff run with a 4-1 win over Worcester. 

2009: Trailing, 1-0, at the end of the first period, the P-Bruins usurp a 2-1 lead late in the second and push the host Portland Pirates to the brink by taking Game 4 of the Atlantic Division semifinals.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: April 22

2000: The P-Bruins delete 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 deficits before Andre Savage scores in overtime for a 5-4 win at Tsongas Arena, sculpting a two-games-to-none lead over Lowell in the best-of-seven Atlantic Division Finals.

2001: Trailing, 2-0, at the second intermission, the P-Bruins perk up for four goals within the final 12 minutes of regulation, snatching a 4-3 decision at the Worcester Centrum and taking a startling 2-0 series lead over the IceCats. Eric Nickulas (2-2) and Terry Hollinger (3-3) both score equalizers before Shawn Bates gives Providence its only lead, but a permanent one, with 15 seconds to spare.

2005: Tomas Kurka (two goals), Dan LaCouture (goal, assist), Pat Leahy (two assists) and Andrew Alberts (two assists) all have a multipoint night as the underdog P-Bruins claim Game 1 of their postseason first round series at Manchester, 5-1.