Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Starting Nine: 9 Facts To Take Into The PawSox-Chiefs Series

Depending on Rochester’s results, the PawSox could pole-vault into first place in the International League North if they sweep their three-game home set with the league-leading Syracuse Chiefs. Both clubs will be coming off a rest/travel day as they tune up for Wednesday evening’s tilt at McCoy Stadium, which will precede a Thursday matinee and Friday night finale.

The idle Syracuse squad (62-47) enters Tuesday night’s action with a two-game lead over the Red Sox (61-50) and Red Wings (60-49). That gap has slimmed in recent weeks with the Chiefs going 5-10 in their last 15 ventures, the Sox 11-4 in the same span.

The Chiefs are coming off a rare pair of back-to-back off days after rain forced the cancellation of Monday’s four-game series finale with Gwinnett. This marks the third time weather has induced a succession of multiple off days for them in 2014, the others being April 4-5 and April 14-15. Syracuse capitalized on the impromptu rest to win their first game coming out of both of those hiatuses.

The Sox are hosting the Chiefs for the first time since nabbing two out of three April 7-9. The Chiefs have since claimed five out of eight head-to-head bouts at NBT Bank Stadium, though Pawtucket has won three out of four in the current month.

Since dropping that April set at McCoy, their first road venture of the season, the Chiefs have sculpted a league-best 30-24 road record. They have gone 20-10 on enemy property dating back to a 10-2 trouncing of the Red Wings on May 27, though they have split their last 10 away games in four different venues.

Pawtucket has limited Syracuse to three runs or fewer in all five of its victories so far in the season series. Conversely, the 2014 PawSox have invariably lost in this matchup when authorizing at least four runs.

Brandon Workman, Wednesday’s slated home starter, will put in his 11th appearance on the PawSox’ mound this season. He has yet to face the Chiefs in 2014, but did claim his first career Triple-A victory at Syracuse’s expense in a 5-3 home triumph on June 9, 2013.

Syracuse right fielder Steven Souza, Jr. leads all qualified IL batters with a .353 batting average, belting his way on base 112 times on 317 attempts through 86 games. Infielders Brandon Laird and Emmanuel Burriss entered Tuesday’s action fourth and ninth, respectively with .317 and .307 success rates at the plate.

Burriss is riding a 10-game hit streak since the All-Star Break, going 16-for-42 with five walks and no strikeouts in that span.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

P-Bruins at Penguins: 6 Storylines To Follow In Game 6

The Providence Bruins must win back-to-back tilts in hostile territory at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza to add a third round to their 2014 playoff run. Take that as an upgrade in difficulty from the home-and-home set of season-saving wins over Springfield in the opening round.

On the heels of seizing Saturday’s Game 5 at the Dunkin Donuts Center, 3-2, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins host Game 6 on Monday. Game 7, if necessary, will be conducted in the same mansion at the same 7:05 p.m. start time.

The potential return of multiple veteran forwards and the question as to how a pair of leaned-on rookies will respond to the latest elimination contest comprise the bulk of Providence’s pregame storylines. The top six items to keep in mind for Monday’s action are explored in the following detail:

1. Bobby Robins robbed his rooters of any chance to see him on home ice in the series as his three-game suspension ran parallel to the series’ stay at The Dunk. But that ban, penance for leaving the penalty box amidst a Game 2 melee, expires effective at Monday’s faceoff.

Since the parent Boston Bruins’ season ended last Wednesday, speculation as to pending unrestricted free agent Shawn Thornton’s future has started to percolate. With Robins constituting a possible homegrown successor if Thornton does not return, the scrutiny should be on him as long as Providence is still in the playoffs.

That does not mean pursuing anymore extracurricular gamesmanship, but rather injecting a fresh-legged dollop of depth in crunch time.

As it happens, Robins’ two career playoff points with Providence both came with the season’s continuation at stake. In last year’s conference quarterfinal, he broke a 1-1 tie en route to a 5-1 romp in Game 3 at Hershey. Later in that best-of-five bout, he assisted on Justin Florek’s 1-1 equalizer to set the pace toward a 3-2 win in Game 5.

2. Nick Johnson is nursing a three-game point drought and a six-game goal-less skid. His plus-minus has lost five exponential points over the last four contests against his old Wilkes-Barre/Scranton allies.

All of this comes after he led the P-Bruins with a plus-20 rating during the regular season, pitching in 18 goals and 42 points in 51 appearances. He might have tallied more if not for a late-winter injury and nine-game call-up to Boston in December.

The last two times Providence faced elimination, Johnson charged up a goal-assist variety pack in Game 4 and retained a plus-four rating in Game 5 of the Springfield series. Can he perk up again as the eleventh hour approaches once more?

3. Malcolm Subban, the presumptive starting goaltender, saved the Bruins’ season once by repelling 31 of 34 shots in Game 4 of the opening round at home. Although, his Game 5 start at MassMutual Center lasted all of 9:56 and two setbacks on seven shots.

On the heels of trading 3-2 decisions against the Pens’ Peter Mannino, the rookie will have his chance to redress his persona of poise on enemy property.

4. Alexander Khokhlachev has not gone consecutive games without a point since the playoffs started. The rookie center and team’s regular-season assists and points leader will need to find the scoresheet Monday to keep that relative consistency alive.

5. The aforementioned Florek, who skated in Boston’s first six playoff games before giving way to Matt Fraser, has one power-play goal on two shots in this series. He may or may not be back from the subsequent lower-body injury he suffered on Friday that kept him out of action Saturday.

If he does return, he will join the likes of Johnson, defenseman David Warsofsky and possibly netminder Niklas Svedberg among pending free agents looking to help preserve the season. Even for prospects, every little bit helps to make one’s case as a keeper, but especially in the best minor-league simulation of the incomparable NHL playoff grind.

Update: Mark Divver of the Providence Journal reported via Twitter Monday afternoon that Florek did not travel to Wilkes-Barre.

6. Whether this hovers over the incumbent roster or not, the Providence franchise has a proud history of rebounding in these situations. The P-Bruins boast an all-time record of 24-15 when facing elimination, including a 4-3 mark after losing a Game 5 to concede a 3-2 difference in a best-of-seven.

The 2001 installment of the Spoked-Ps nipped the regular-season champion Worcester IceCats by scores of 1-0 and 3-2 (in overtime) to usurp the division final. In 2007, the Bruins lost Game 5 of the first round at home, only to seize Games 6 and 7 in Hartford to muzzle the Wolf Pack.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Trivia Tag-up: Canadiens, Rangers Both Have Past Providence Alliances

The NHL’s 2014 Eastern Conference Final will not feature 11 one-time Providence Bruins, much less the rest of Boston’s active roster. But with the Montreal Canadiens seizing the right to confront the New York Rangers for the Prince of Wales Trophy, the matchup is permeated with distant, historic Providence partnerships.

According to the Internet Hockey Database, the Providence Reds spent their first decade of operation in the Canadian-American League. For half of that time, they partnered with the Habs as their first parent club.

That alliance lasted from 1928-29 to 1932-33 and featured a pair of Fontaine Cups titles (1930 and 1932) for Providence. Montreal concomitantly stamped back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1930 and 1931.

In their 41 years under the AHL heading, the Reds variously served as the primary feeder base of seven NHL and WHA franchises. The Blueshirts served as their major-league affiliate for two stints: 1955-58 and 1971-76. The first season of that first stint witnessed the Divine City’s last professional playoff hockey title until the P-Bruins nabbed the 1999 Calder Cup.

In addition, the Rangers’ current Triple-A club in Hartford is a distant reincarnation of the Reds. The franchise in question spent two decades in Binghamton, N.Y. as the Dusters, Whalers and Rangers until transferring to Connecticut in 1997.

While Bruins buffs lick their wounds and the current Canadiens and Rangers prepare to lock twigs, there is a way to service the fans of all three franchises at once. On that note, here is a look back on the latter two franchise’s historic connections to Providence. (Note: Only those who played for both Providence and the parent club when the affiliations were active are eligible for mention.)

5 Key Reds-Canadiens Connections

Gerald Carson, D: Carson’s first NHL season in 1928-29 saw him transfer via trade from the Rangers to the Canadiens. The next year, he spent a six-game conditioning stint in Providence, but otherwise remained north of the border. As it happened, both the Reds and the Habs won their respective playoff titles that spring.  

Carson spent the entire 1930-31 and 1931-32 seasons in the Ocean State, winning a Fontaine Cup in the latter year before permanently returning to The Show. He dressed for every game with the Canadiens in each of the three campaigns from 1932 to 1935, then tacked on a 42-game ride with the intramural rival Maroons in 1936-37.

Johnny Gagnon, RW: Gagnon’s final CAHL season yielded 20 goals and the 1930 Fontaine Cup. In each of the next two seasons, he placed second on Montreal’s goal-scoring leaderboard only to Howie Morenz. As a rookie, he added six goals and eight points in 10 playoff games to help the 1931 Canadiens repeat as champions.

Gagnon later topped Montreal’s charts with 20-16-36 scoring totals in 1936-37. His final NHL transcript reads 454 games and a 120-141-261 production log.

Art Giroux, RW: To cap off his second full season in Providence, Giroux co-led the team with a 3-1-4 playoff scoring log en route to the 1932 Fontaine Cup. The next season, he broke in with the Canadiens, seeing action in 40 of his eventual 54 NHL games.

Wildor Larochelle, RW: A decade-plus with the Habs (1925-35) sandwiched a 39-game stay in Rhode Island during the first year of the affiliation. Larochelle pitched in eight goals and 12 points, then returned to Montreal for six-plus additional seasons.

Following his refinement with the Reds, he cracked double digits in the goal column four times and partook in the 1930 and 1931 Stanley Cup. The Canadiens ultimately dealt him to the Blackhawks early in the 1935-36 campaign.

Armand Mondou, LW: In a 14-year playing career (1926 to 1940), Mondou made only three cities his place of employment. Leading up to and whilst logging 385 games and two Stanley Cup rings with Montreal, he saw multiple minor-league stints in Providence and New Haven.

5 Key Reds-Rangers Connections 

Johnny Bower, G: Before he built his “China Wall” persona in Toronto, Bower was on the Providence-New York shuttle. Between 1954 and 1957, he scraped the blue paint for the Rangers 77 times, the Reds 118. That does not even count his 14 playoff appearances, including nine for the Reds’ last Calder Cup run in 1956.

Camille Henry, LW: In his lone full-length AHL season, Henry led the Calder Cup-winning Reds with 50 regular-season and 10 playoff goals. He buried another 31 strikes in 29 games before earning a permanent promotion to Manhattan. 

For the next eight-and-a-half seasons, leading up to a 1965 trade to Chicago, Henry donned nothing but Blueshirt attire, thrice leading the team in goals. His final NHL totals: 727 games played, 279 goals, 249 assists and 528 points.

Dave Maloney, D: Maloney stepped into the pros months after the Rangers drafted him 14th overall in 1974. He mustered four NHL appearances in his rookie season, otherwise devoting 58 games to Providence. He subsequently averaged an assist per game in six contests in the 1975 Calder Cup playoffs. 

After another 26 AHL twirls in 1975-76, the two-way blueliner became a permanent NHLer for the 10-year balance of his career. His plus-18 rating topped the team chart in 1977-78 and his career-high plus-24 rating led all Blueshirt skaters in 1980-81.

Rick Middleton, RW: Bruins buffs knew him as “Nifty” by the time Middleton had finished his career with a prolific 12-year ride in Boston. But he spent his first three professional seasons in New York’s organization, devoting his first to minor-league development in 1973-74.

All he did that year was endear himself to a more selective sector of New England puckheads with a team-leading 36-48-84 scoring log in 63 games. He followed that with a point-per-game average (9-6-15) in the 1974 playoffs, co-piloting the Reds to their last Calder Cup Final, where they lost to Hershey in five. 

On the heels of that output, Middleton collected the AHL’s top rookie laurel, broke in with the Rangers the next fall and never looked back. His first 90 of 988 points in The Show benefitted the Blueshirts.

Gump Worsley, G: With two exceptions, the colorful Hall of Fame netminder was consistently in The Show with New York from 1954 to 1963. The first of those exceptions was a 25-game stint with the Reds during the 1957-58 season.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Trivia Tag-up: Beware the Ides of May, Boston Bruins?

Until this year, the Boston Bruins held an 8-0 lifetime record in postseason games played on May 1 and a 9-0 overall on that date. (They edged the Ottawa Senators on May 1, 1995, late in a lockout-shortened and delayed regular season.)

Two weeks ago, the Montreal Canadiens chipped that trend and raised the initial upper hand in the 2014 Atlantic Division Final with a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1.

Crossover New England puckheads and omen junkies can take consolation in that as the series meets its inevitable end Wednesday, May 14, 2014.

If the 15th day of the third calendar month is the Ides of March, then the 14th sunrise of the fifth month marks the Ides of May for the Spoked-Bs. The Boston franchise is 1-8 on that date with an active five-game losing streak entering Wednesday’s Game 7.

The lone exception witnessed captain Ray Bourque and Co. stamping that core group’s first of two Stanley Cup Final passports. The norm includes a Canadiens’ Cup clincher, the last playoff hockey game at the old Boston Garden and all three May 14 hockey games at the new TD Garden.

Bruins buffs who have the digestive organs for it are invited to revisit the rundown below. (Bold type denotes season-ending defeats for Boston.) Otherwise, skip the next eight lines:

1974: Game 4, Stanley Cup Final, 4-2 loss at Philadelphia

1977: Game 4, Stanley Cup Final, 2-1 loss to Montreal

1988: Game 7, Wales Conference Final, 6-2 win over New Jersey

1995: Game 5, Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, 3-2 loss to New Jersey

1999: Game 4, Eastern Conference Semifinal, 3-0 loss at Buffalo

2009: Game 7, Eastern Conference Semifinal, 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina

2010: Game 7, Eastern Conference Semifinal, 4-3 loss to Philadelphia

2011: Game 1, Eastern Conference Final, 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay

The only two series Boston won in these instances have been the 1988 and 2011 conference finals.

In fairness, that once-impeccable May 1 record carried a cornucopia of kickers. Four of those eight wins on that date granted the Bruins a 1-0 series lead, but did nothing to avert an eventual letdown in that series. Those included the 1991 conference final, the second round of the 1994 tournament and the aforementioned 2009 Carolina confrontation and 2010 Philadelphia flameout. 

With a win Wednesday, the Bruins can turn that altogether trivial hex on the Habs. Otherwise, we are looking at a mini-reprise of 1977 for the faithful of each franchise.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2014 Bruins Need To Channel 2001 Avalanche Now More Than Ever

Boston Bruins buffs who have spent the 2013-14 season banking on Jarome Iginla as the “reverse Ray Bourque” have reached the climax of the Colorado-Los Angeles phase. The padded personnel are on a threshold between the halfway mark of the Stanley Cup playoffs and elimination.

New England puckheads old enough to at least be graduating high school in the next month should remember enough to draw parallels. A President’s Trophy-winning team with a dense corps of Cup winners and one aging, Cup-less legend has let a worthy adversary force Game 7 in the second round.

The 2000-01 Avalanche had a 3-1 lead on the Kings in the Western Conference Final, only to let that pothole fill for lack of production. Back-to-back 1-0 falters necessitated a rubber tilt at the Pepsi Center.

The present-day Bruins had a chance to snuff the Montreal Canadiens on Monday, but retched a 4-0 stinker. As penance, they will have their rivals follow them home for Wednesday’s winner-take-all fixture at the TD Garden.

Paging through the commemorative tome Mission 16W (co-authored by longtime Denver Post scribe and part-time Bleacher Report colleague Adrian Dater) casts light on additional similarities at this stage.

When the Avs whiffed on their closeout bid on the road, they fired 33 vain shots at the Kings cage. Captain Joe Sakic led that fruitless struggle with five registered stabs.

When the Bruins spilled their first chance to put away the Habs, they let Carey Price complete a 26-save shutout. Iginla, the most seasoned forward on the strike force, piloted the fruitless toil with six shots on goal. Linemates Milan Lucic and center and alternate captain David Krejci combined for five.

When Colorado missed its first of three eventual chances to close out the Kings, its power play slipped to three conversions on 29 segments in the series. Through six games, including a blown first chance out of two to dump Montreal, Boston’s power play is a similarly plebeian 2-for-15 against the Canadiens’ penalty-killing brigade.

The Avs of the past and the Bs of the present each endured a washout en route to a whitewash on their first attempt to reach the conference final. The former club had Milan Hejduk’s would-be Game 5 equalizer waved off due to a high stick. The latter watched Montreal center David Desharnais legally halt the puck on his own goal line in the closing frame.

Both team failed to let those close shaves, among others, spark them to better finish on subsequent attacks.

But like Bourque and his Colorado colleagues, Iginla and the Bruins will have 60 more minutes to percolate more onslaughts.

The parallels are at a present peak leading up to Wednesday’s faceoff. They will only have the potential to continue thereafter if the Spoked-Bs stretch their season to at least an additional round.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Post-game Pop-ups: PawSox 5, Mud Hens 3

Swift Summation
The Pawtucket Red Sox uncorked a restock of carbonation roughly 40 hours in the making Thursday afternoon. The subsequent stream helped them salvage a split of their eight-game homestand and four-game bout with the Toledo Mud Hens in a come-from-behind, 5-3 victory.

The PawSox deluged a drought of 15 consecutive scoreless innings in the bottom of the fifth. Each of their top eight batters factored in to the scoring, flip-flopping a 3-0 deficit to a 5-3 lead.

While that hex was still in progress, the Mud Hens ran their string of unanswered runs to nine. After nabbing the last two runs Tuesday and stamping a 4-0 shutout Wednesday, they reaped three runs off Rubby De La Rosa in the second inning.

After retiring each of his first five challengers, Pawtucket’s starter drove into a ditch. He authorized five consecutive two-out baserunners, three of whom crossed the plate in the top of the second.

James McCann started the outburst by directing the first pitch he faced down the left-field line for a base hit. Next, De La Rosa’s payoff pitch hits the dirt to let Tyler Collins on board.

Ben Guez sent both of his mates home to crack open a 2-0 lead with a single to left. He nabbed a pair of extra bases on the play with De La Rosa’s off-target throw home.

The following five-pitch walk to Marcus Lemon placed men at the corners and Daniel Fields retained that arrangement. He worked a full count and drove the second 3-2 delivery up the inning up the middle to nudge Guez to the dish and Lemon to third.

Toledo counterpart Mike Belfiore incurred his own throwing error in the bottom of the same inning. His botched force attempt let Bryce Brentz on first and put Ryan Lavarnway in scoring position with no outs.

But a fly out and a 5-4-3 double play let the visiting starter get through his slovenly second stanza unscatched.

Three innings later, with Jhan Marinez on in relief of Belfiore, the PawSox finally recompensed. A cumulative nine pitches amounted to two walks, setting the table for Corey Brown to draw a 3-3 deadlock with a home run to right.

Marinez mustered one more out before giving way to Pat McCoy after letting two more men on board at the corners. Daniel Nava greeted McCoy with a go-ahead single up the middle, bumping Brock Holt home for a 4-3 home advantage.

Two plays later, with the bases loaded, Bryce Brentz augmented that lead to 5-3 by grounding into a force-out at second.

To sandwich the offensive turnaround, De La Rosa neutralized his preceding tempest. He allowed no hits in the four innings followings the second and threw a 1-2-3 fifth and sixth. Toledo finally touched him again with Guez’s two-out double in the seventh on his 102nd and final delivery.

But he Hens, who looked hapless on offense heading into this series, regressed to their old form against De La Rosa and the Pawtucket bullpen. They stranded Guez and then brooked two more three-up, three-down innings.

PawSox Pluses
Holt hammered the host club’s only hit off of Belfiore with a two-out single in the third. After the Sox knotted the score in the fifth, he subsequently kept the tide-turning frame alive by tripling to the corner at the right-field warning track. That three-bagger was Holt’s second and the team’s fifth in 2014.

Upon succeeding De La Rosa with two down in the seventh, Rich Hill threw an efficient 1.1 innings of relief. He threw 13 of his 18 offerings for strikes to retire each of his four challengers. Drake Britton was just as solid in a 1-2-3 ninth, needing only 10 pitches to cement the 5-3 final.

Sox Stains
De La Rosa’s stat line when trying to attain the third out of the second inning: 28 pitches, 15 balls, 13 strikes, three hits, two walks, three runs, one earned run and a throwing error.

Left fielder Justin Henry was charged with a throwing error himself in that wound-opening segment.

On top of those five shortcomings in the second, two of the last three Toledo baserunners De La Rosa’s watch came with two outs in a given inning. He tossed a seven-pitch walk to Trevor Crowe in the third and exited in the seventh after the aforementioned double by Guez, who had initially fallen behind in the count on consecutive called strikes.

Mud Hens Notes
Belfiore, ordinarily a reliever, made his second start of the season. The left-throwing Boston College alum pitched three full innings before the Hens dipped into their bullpen.

Drew VerHagen was Toledo’s originally scheduled starter, but was supplanted for reasons not readily disclosed.

Guez led the visiting cause on offense, hitting 2-for-3 on the day with an RBI and a run scored.

Mike Hessman batted 0-for-4 with two strikeouts for his only hitless performance of the series.

The PawSox are now 10-9 on the year when allowing the first run of the game and 8-7 in matinees.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Post-game Pop-ups: Mud Hens 4, PawSox 0

Swift Summation
Pawtucket Red Sox starter Brandon Workman outlasted and outclassed Toledo Mud Hens counterpart Kyle Lobstein Wednesday night. The problem was his offensive allies made their guest look better and gave four solo home runs from the other dugout an unabated opportunity to make the difference.

Mike Hessman single-handedly cracked open a 2-0 edge before Tyler Collins and Ben Guez went deep to double the lead. The Sox never offered a rebuttal and thus brooked a 4-0 loss at McCoy Stadium.

Workman threw an even seven innings, surpassing his previous season high of six. He confined the Hens to five baserunners on four hits and a walk. Two of those hits did not come until the eighth.

Coming off his first win of the 2014 season—a 5.1 IP effort that saw him fan a season-high seven challengers at Syracuse last Friday—Lobstein raised his own bar. He benched nine PawSox batters on strikes and pitched six full innings for the first time this spring.

By the two-thirds mark, Workman had tossed an efficient 68 pitches, including 43 for strikes, versus Lobstein’s 95. He had yielded only one hit and one walk out of 20 total showdowns with Toledo hitters.

Nothing doing in his duel with Lobstein, for Pawtucket fell behind early in the only meaningful column and could not recompense on offense.

Through the first six innings, the Mud Hens mustered the lone run for either team on their lone hit in that span. The veteran third baseman Hessman led off the second by leveling a payoff pitch over the left-field fence.

The Sox, meanwhile, squandered six baserunners in as many innings against Toledo’s starter. When he secured his 18th out on his 95th pitch, Lobstein took a seat and watched Hessman lend him another dose of support with another solo shot to left in the seventh.

Lobstein returned in the bottom half and upped his pitch count to 100 on a third strike to Garin Cecchini. Only then did he give way to Chad Smith with 6.1 IP to his credit and no reckonable damage on four hits, a walk and a fielding error by Collins in left field.

Workman delivered his 80th pitch of the night to commence the eighth. Collins redirected it over the right-field wall to augment the Mud Hens’ advantage to 3-0.

Seven offerings later, Guez made it back-to-back blasts, depositing another one in the same vicinity and ending Workman’s toil.

PawSox Pluses
The four dingers aside, it is hard to see much justice in hanging Wednesday night’s albatross on Workman’s neck. Of his 87 total pitches, 57 were strikes, only two fewer than the previous season high he set last Friday in a 96-pitch struggle with Indianapolis.

Four of Workman’s seven full innings were of the 1-2-3 variety and he twice struck out leadoff man Daniel Fields. Fields had entered Wednesday’s action having hit safely in each of his previous five outings, including a 4-for-8 rampage over the first half of this series.

Alex Hassan tacked a hit on both Lobstein’s and Smith’s tab. Ryan Roberts did the same with a first-inning double and eighth-inning single.

Sox Stains
In their more anguishing spurts of futility, the PawSox left a cumulative three men hanging in scoring position on Lobstein’s watch. They did the same in the seventh after Hassan singled off Smith and moved to second on a wild pitch.

While he was hardly alone among the victims, Daniel Nava stood out like a prom night pimple by striking out in all three of his confrontations with Lobstein. The first of those “Ks” was of the looking variety and left Roberts on second.

When facing Smith on the mound and Roberts aboard first in the eighth, Nava chopped into an inning-ending 6-3 double play. That concluded the left fielder’s first 0-for-4 showing in nine games played—and 24 hours after he received a night off, no less.

Mud Hens Notes
Hessman touched lefty Chris Hernandez for his third hit of the evening, a lining leadoff single to left in the ninth. His third attempt at a full-diamond tour met an immediate end in the form of a double play.

Former Pawtucket catcher Luis Exposito saw action for the first time in the series, amounting to his sixth official road game at McCoy. He grounded out in all three of his encounters with Workman and whiffed on a 2-2 delivery by Hernandez in the ninth. In turn, he has gone hitless in each of his last four visits to his original Triple-A domain with the Norfolk Tides and Mud Hens.
Jose Ortega closed the game with a 1-2-3 ninth, fanning Bryce Brentz and Garin Cecchini for the final two outs.

Hessman’s first homer was the first by a McCoy visitor since Indianapolis’ Andrew Lambo belted one during the opening installment of the current PawSox homestand. 

Alex Wilson served as Workman’s first reliever, inducing all three outs in the eighth and authorizing a double by Brandon Douglas.
First basemen Ryan Lavarnway of Pawtucket and Jordan Lennerton of Toledo drew Wednesday's only walk for their respective teams.

Video from the minorleaguebaseball YouTube channel

Reliving Chuck Kobasew’s Top 5 Goals as a Boston Bruin

Bruins buffs will remember the peak of Chuck Kobasew’s hockey career better than any other market. The 32-year-old right wing’s two most productive NHL campaigns were his two full seasons with Boston in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Kobasew came to the Bruins with Andrew Ference in a four-player swap with the Flames on Feb. 10, 2007. He proceeded to charge up a career-high 22 goals and 39 points, helping the long-suffering franchise restore its playoff presence in 2008. As the black and gold made additional strides, he tallied a personal best 42 points, including 21 goals, in 2008-09.

He would not stick around for the rest of the resurgence. An Oct. 18, 2009 deal saw him transfer to the Minnesota Wild for the rights to Craig Weller, Alexander Fallstrom and a second-round pick in the 2011 draft.

He has since donned Colorado and Pittsburgh crests and now the Penguins’ constraints have him lending a veteran presence to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Through one postseason round, he tops the AHL club’s chart with a 3-3-6 scoring log in a four-game dismissal of Binghamton.

With the Providence Bruins raring for a conference semifinal rematch with the Baby Pens, Kobasew will see Calder Cup playoff action in the range of his old rooters.

As it happens, he will thus face two of the players Boston’s organization collected with his export. Fallstrom, a Harvard freshman at the time of the deal, and Alexander Khokhlachev, taken with the pick the Wild relinquished, are each rookies with the P-Bruins.

But before five-and-a-half-year-old paths collide, here is a glance at the seasoned striker’s top highlights with Boston, based on a combination of visual appeal and impact.

Honorable Mention: April 20, 2009 at Montreal

There was nothing spectacular about the play, per the general nature of empty netters. But when Kobasew caught up with a clear and finalized a 4-2 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, he prompted a viral Jack Edwards call.

It was Kobasew’s third point in as many career playoff games as a Bruin. He had missed the previous year’s shortcoming seven-game epic with the Canadiens due to a season-ending fractured left tibia.

Boston raised the upper hand in the series to 3-0 and finished its sweep of the Habs on the same Bell Centre pond two nights later. It was the franchise’s first playoff series win under head coach Claude Julien and first overall in a decade.

5. March 28, 2009 at Toronto

The Bruins set up their role-reversal rematch with the Canadiens by barnstorming to first place in the Eastern Conference. In the week between their division- and conference-clinching games, they edged the host Maple Leafs in a 7-5 seesaw barnburner.

Kobasew supplied Boston’s first of three equalizers at the 5:40 mark of the first period, 99 seconds after Toronto’s icebreaker. He absorbed defenseman Matt Hunwick’s pass, embedded himself in a box of blue jerseys and chopped home a backhander.

That secured the fourth installment of his six-game point streak and sparked the second installment of the team’s six-game win streak. A week later, that sixth win came against the Rangers to secure first place in the conference, where Montreal had finished the year prior.

4. Nov. 10, 2007 vs. Buffalo
Fast-forward to the 3:32 mark of the video (linked here) for Kobasew’s no-look, mid-air connection on a decisive Boston power play. A mere 32 seconds after current Bruins fourth-liner Daniel Paille drew a 1-1 knot shorthanded, Kobasew broke that draw.

Upon entering Buffalo territory on the next sequence, Kobasew dished a lateral feed to Zdeno Chara and cut to a congested porch. Chara dished to fellow point patroller Dennis Wideman, whose straightaway slapper generated an airborne rebound. That rebound found the net with Kobasew’s sharp read and simple stick work, spelling the difference in a 2-1 victory.

3. April 18, 2009 vs. Montreal

In Game 2 of the opening playoff round, Kobasaw shuffled the biscuit behind the goal line on two occasions, briefly handing it over to Patrice Bergeron in between. With or without the puck, he kept moving his feet and ultimately positioned himself at the backdoor to backhand the remnants of Mark Recchi’s distant slot shot home.

That augmented Boston’s lead to 2-0 in the contest and kept the Bruins on pace to raising a 2-0 upper hand in the series. Kobasew would earn credit for the clincher on his first Stanley Cup strike with the Spoked-Bs in a 4-1 final that night.

2. March 8, 2009 at NY Rangers

This was all but a thorough hodgepodge of the aforementioned and one highlight still to come.

On a rolling forward shipment from Chara, Kobasew bolted down the center alley to beat Henrik Lundqvist. And he did it on yet another backhand bid.

The only drawbacks for this play’s ranking purposes are the fact that no Rangers pestered him and he maintained a conventional stature while shooting. Then again, it is hard to beat a pure breakaway, which only one goal in Kobasew’s Bruins vault can do.

On that note…

1. Jan. 19, 2008 vs. NY Rangers

The sequence starts to unfold at the 2:34 mark of the highlight package.

On a Boston power play in the 16th minute of the second period, Kobasew absorbed Chara’s blue-line-to-blue-line pass up the Broadway lane. With Blueshirts blueliner Michal Roszival on his tail, he involuntarily genuflected in the slot, but still scorched Lundqvist with an ice-kisser. 

That goal, which spotted the Bruins a 2-1 lead, did not absolve Roszival from a hooking penalty because it converted an active man advantage with Brandon Dubinsky in the bin for the Rangers. Later, with 10:30 to spare in regulation, Kobasew buried another power-play tally for a 3-3 draw en route to a 4-3 shootout victory.

Videos from the gwyshynski, theorynatural and NHL YouTube channels

Monday, May 5, 2014

Post-game Pop-ups: PawSox 6, Mud Hens 4

Swift Summation
Monday night's chaos started when the Toledo Mud Hens started laying eggs and the Pawtucket Red Sox started breaking them with their bats. The situation grew mutually mucky when the Sox swapped habits with their visitors.

It all culminated in comparative calmness. By the time the Sox had delivered 157 pitches and faced 150, they had subsisted on an initial 6-0 lead for a 6-4 victory.

Only five and a half innings had passed by the time each team had dipped into its bullpen and each staff had combined to exceed 100 pitches (Toledo 120, Pawtucket 112). That was primarily a product of each team batting around in the bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth. Enough to make the McCoy Stadium masses forget that there were eight scoreless half-innings beforehand.

Then again, those untouched goose-eggs were an afterthought in the opening frame. The PawSox made a booming first impression in their first turn at bat, sending seven men to the plate and two across the plate.

With Toledo starter Derek Hankins’ first two challengers of the night in scoring position, Daniel Nava promptly put Pawtucket on board with a sacrifice grounder to first. Ryan Roberts supplanted Brock Holt aboard third base on that play, then followed him home via Christian Vazquez’s infield single.

Hankins and the Hens subsequently settled the storm on defense, but the PawSox matched them on the other side of the ball. A Mike Hessman single and a Jordan Lennerton walk constituted Toledo’s lone two baserunners through four innings.

The PawSox percolated a second wind in the fifth. Hankins was three tosses away from triple digits by the time Ryan Lavarnway stepped up with runners at the corners and two down. Eight throws later, Vazquez rolled a single to left, plating Holt from third for a 3-0 lead and the night’s first pitching change.

Garin Cecchini greeted Nate Robinson with a base hit to right that drove Daniel Nava home from second. He extended his single to an extra base and thus placed himself and Vazquez in scoring position.

Alex Hassan proceeded to take both out of that position the delectable way. He nailed a sharp grounder to left to augment the lead to 6-0, giving the Sox four two-out runs in the inning. Corey Brown kept the tempest twirling with a single of his own for Pawtucket’s 10th hit of the evening.

Toledo broke through on its next try. Daniel Fields led off with a four-pitch walk, hustled to third on Hernan Perez’s single and then darted home when Lennerton belted Anthony Ranaudo’s first bid over the right-field fence for a ground-rule double.

Ranaudo walked the bases full and reliever Rich Hill walked in the Mud Hens’ second and third run. Although, he at least preceded those walks with strikeouts and ultimately induced a Brandon Douglas grounder, preserving half of Pawtucket’s breathing room.

But just as the PawSox did with the first and the fifth, Toledo started to reprise its sixth inning in the seventh. Fields led off with a single before Perez deposited a double to the left-field warning track. Mike Hessman’s sacrifice fly to center allowed Fields to whittle the deficit down to 6-4.
Each team saw the rest of its batters retired thereafter, turning the score to stone.

PawSox Pluses
An alternating combination of patience and persistence from the Pawtucket bat rack helped to hasten Hankins’ exit. Six home batters within the first three innings alone worked a full count, including Roberts in each of his first two plate appearances.

Before any of that, Holt set the tone by fouling off four straight 1-2 deliveries, taking a second ball and then chopping the third pitch to center for his first-inning single. He added a leadoff single in the fifth for his first multi-hit effort since being optioned back from Boston April 25. That figures to kick a little dirt on his comparatively quiet 1-for-11 showing in the Indianapolis series.

Vazquez earned his dough as the DH Monday night, charging up an RBI on each of his two hits and scoring another run himself. Hasssan matched his distinction of two hits and two runs driven in.

With a 1-2-3 eighth and ninth, reliever Dalier Hinojosa averted any and all opposing baserunners for the first time in five outings, dating back to April 13.

Sox Stains
Ranaudo started to lose his command in the top of the fifth. Nine of his first 14 deliveries that inning were balls, as were six of his first seven in the sixth.

In the wake of losing his shutout bid and having another two adversaries in scoring position, Ranaudo threw a pair of two-strike pitches at face level past Hessman. He then dropped one in the dirt to run the count full and another high and outside to fill the bases with still no outs. Manager Kevin Boles forked him out in favor of Hill at that point.

Mud Hens Notes
Toledo’s three-run awakening in the sixth halted a skid of 19 consecutive scoreless innings dating back to Saturday in Syracuse.

Lennerton has drawn a walk in five consecutive games to start the month of May.
Perez's two-bagger was his seventh of the season, giving him sole possession of the team lead ahead of Hessman.

Robertson surrendered a run and multiple hits for his third consecutive relief outing. The previous two occurred April 26 and 29 to bookend a home set with Gwinnett. But after his rocky entrance, he mustered back-to-back 1-2-3 stanzas in the sixth and seventh.

The PawSox broke double digits in the hit column for the 10th time in 2014, but the first in seven games.

The PawSox are 10-1 on the year when leading after six innings this season.

Video from the minorleaguebaseball YouTube channel

A Brief History of Providence Bruins Playoff Rematches

For the seventh time in their 22-year history, the Providence Bruins will face the same adversary in consecutive playoff runs. Their best-of-seven second-round date with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins constitutes a rematch of the P-Bruins’ 4-3 falter in the same series 12 months ago.

The Baby Bs franchise is 4-1 in five previous stabs at a postseason do-over with a given adversary. The opposition is 1-0 when seeking redemption, though that scenario is not relevant in 2014 with the Hershey Bears out of the mix.

As Friday’s series opener at Wilkes-Barre’s Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza continues its gradual approach, here is a look back at the Bruins’ other back-to-back postseason bouts.

1996-97: Springfield Falcons
The 1996 playoffs began with a 6-3 P-Bruins win at the Falcons’ “Nest.” (Sound familiar?) But the higher-seeded Springfielders retorted with a 3-2 regulation victory before seizing two overtime decisions in as many nights at the Providence Civic Center. The Bruins spilled a 3-0 lead after the first period to set up a 4-3, sudden-death season-ending defeat in Game 4.

Exactly 52 weeks later, each team enabled a best-of-seven second-round meeting by each surmounting 2-0 series deficits. The Bruins dislodged the top dog Worcester IceCats, the Falcons the Portland Pirates to set up the New England Division Final.

Once there, Springfield roared out to a commanding 3-0 lead, nudging the Bruins to a brink with yet another overtime win on Providence property in Game 3. A stellar performance by one-month wonder Derek Herlofsky helped the Spoked-Ps stave off a sweep and spare their home crowd handshakes and heartache. But the Falcons dealt the decisive blow the next night on their pond in Game 5, 3-1.

1999-00: Hartford Wolf Pack
The first-ever playoff edition of a natural rivalry was the least compelling of its kind. The 1999 P-Bruins flexed their historic dominance with a four-game, second-round sweep in the New England Division Final.

Starting the next year, though, the Bruins and Wolf Pack developed a habit of pushing their postseason bouts to a rubber match. It happened in 2000, 2001 and their most recent renewal in 2007.

The first time around, Hartford recovered from a double-overtime loss in Game 4 to fill a 3-1 series pothole. Having succeeded Providence as the AHL’s regular-season champions, they thus exercised their right to host Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

The reigning playoff champion P-Bruins briefly flip-flopped a 1-0 deficit to a 2-1 lead. But the Pack pulled even to force overtime, where old friend Terry Virtue banked the clinching shot off Peter Ferraro’s backchecking blade.

Virtue went on to win his second straight Cup at the expense of the Rochester Americans, joining his new allies in a 4-2 series triumph.

2000-01: Hartford Wolf Pack
Hartford held the higher seed in the opening round of their title defense and pounced for an initial 2-0 in the best-of-five.

But the Bruins channeled their 1997 selves and the Pack of the previous year with back-to-back elimination-game victories before seizing the decider back in Connecticut. Eric Manlow supplied both visiting goals in Game 5’s 2-1 decision.

2007-08: Manchester Monarchs
After their string of three consecutive confrontations, Providence and Hartford would not cross paths in another playoff tournament until 2007. When the Bruins recovered from a 3-2 deficit to claim a best-of-seven in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal, they brought on the Monarchs.

An initial 1-0 and 2-1 edge devolved into a six-game slipup in that series. But after claiming the regular-season title in 2008, the P-Bruins got their chance to return the favor in the Eastern Conference quarters.

In the rematch, Tuukka Rask and his skating mates outdueled and overwhelmed Jonathan Quick for a Game 2 shutout. The rest of the time, Rask outlasted Jonathan Bernier for a troika of 3-2 overtime victories en route to a four-game sweep.

Rask would backstop the Bruins to two more wins, confining the opposition to two goals or fewer in each of his first six AHL playoff games. But the Portland Pirates reversed the momentum for a four-games-to-two upset in the second round.

2008-09: Portland Pirates
By hosting the Pirates for the first two games of the first round, the P-Bruins again picked up where they left an unfulfilled playoff endeavor.

Rask recovered from a 3-0 loss in the opener and regained the form he had lost at the turning point from 2008. He limited Portland to one goal—no more, no less—in each of four unanswered wins to polish off a 4-1 series decision.

Multipoint efforts from Rask’s fellow future Boston colleagues, Johnny Boychuk and Brad Marchand, granted Providence the lead via a 5-1 romp in Game 3. Rask later claimed first-star accolades in Game 4 at Portland and the Game 5 clincher back home.

Rask’s minor-league career continued for 11 more games with a second-round dismissal of the Worcester Sharks and a five-game falter via Hershey in the conference final. Boychuk, Marchand and Adam McQuaid all followed him to The Show over the course of the next year.

2009-13: Hershey Bears
This is somewhat a stretch since it did not occur in consecutive calendar years. But the fact is that the Providence franchise saw no playoff action between May 25, 2009 and April 26, 2013.

The setting for both of those games: The Dunkin Donuts Center. The visiting adversary in both cases: The Hershey Bears.

After laying claim to their third regular-season laurel in franchise history, the P-Bruins hosted Hershey to commence the playoffs in a best-of-five, which returned after a 10-year absence.

Like the 1997 IceCats and 2011 Wolf Pack, the Bears sculpted a swift and commanding 2-0 advantage. But a two-goal, three-point performance from old friend Chris Bourque on Hershey property preserved Providence’s hopes in a 5-1 Game 3 outburst.

Carter Camper’s hat trick piloted a 5-4 win to force a rubber match back at The Dunk, where the Bruins prevailed on the scoreboard and in the series by identical 3-2 finals. Soon-to-be Boston blueliners Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski collaborated to set up Jamie Tardif’s go-ahead strike to wrest away the rematch of the Ultimate Ursine Battle.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Can The 2014 P-Bruins Channel Their Parents From 2011 In Round 2?

If this were not sport imitating art—no, outclassing art—a plagiarism suit would be in order.

The Bruins are raring to engage a rival from eastern Pennsylvania in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the same stage where they met the same adversary last season. There, they will vie to redeem an incomparable collapse that saw them spill a three-games-to-none lead en route to Game 7 defeat.

Just substitute “Providence” for “Boston,” “AHL” for “NHL” and “Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins” for “Philadelphia Flyers.” Apart from that, the pre-series parallels lend this 2013-14 saga a Xerox of 2010-11 for Bruins buffs.

For stretching addicts, one can add the fact that last year’s Providence-Scranton set began and ended on Bruins property. This time, the second round will start in Pennsylvania with the No. 6 Baby Pens sitting one seed above the Baby Bs.

Furthermore, the P-Bruins stamped their passport to this rematch with a winner-take-all first-round triumph over a historic playoff nemesis. Saturday’s 6-3 romp at MassMutual Center secured the 22-year-old franchise’s first postseason victory in three tries against the Springfield Falcons and four tries against any Springfield-based adversary.

Here are five other ice chips of trivia pertaining to the upcoming Bruins-Penguins Calder Cup playoff renewal:

·       Seven members of the current Providence roster were in action for that fateful 5-0 falter last May 22: Tommy Cross, Craig Cunningham, Jared Knight, Bobby Robins, Ryan Spooner, Niklas Svedberg and David Warsofsky. All except Cross dressed for the opening round series with Springfield.

·       Five other P-Bruins who started the previous Wilkes-Barre/Scranton series are now suiting up with the parent club. Defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug were called up amidst each team’s 2013 postseason run. Fellow blueliner Kevan Miller and forwards Jordan Caron and Justin Florek stayed with Providence through at least last season’s end.

·       The Penguins are fielding five holdovers from 12 months ago: Defensemen Brian Dumoulin, Reid McNeill and Philip Samuelsson; centers Zach Sill and Dominik Uher.

·       Former Boston Bruins winger Chuck Kobasew has been with the Penguins’ farm club for the better part of the last two months. The 12-year professional veteran led Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with three goals and six points in a 3-1 first-round upset of the Binghamton Senators.
      That 3-3-6 scoring log of his matches his 11-game postseason output as a member of the Spoked-Bs in 2009. Boston’s Game 7 second-round loss to Carolina that year was Kobasew’s last postseason game in any league until this spring.
      The last time Kobasew partook in the Calder Cup playoffs? That would be 2005, when future teammate Patrice Bergeron and the P-Bruins ousted his Lowell Lock Monsters in the second round.

·       The AHL Penguins bear another veteran NHL winger in Tom Kostopolous, who like Kobasew last saw Stanley Cup tournament action in 2009. Kostopolous was on the 2007-08 and 2008-09 Montreal teams that traded first-round victories with Kobasew’s Bruins.
      In addition, his previous AHL campaign also ended at the hands of the P-Bruins, who dethroned his Manchester Monarchs in six games in those aforementioned 2005 playoffs.