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.