Monday, May 5, 2014

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.