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SEASON IN REVIEW:  Eastern Conference Semifinal

The 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinal between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Providence has become a thing of lore for Penguins fans.  The Penguins made American Hockey League history when they became the first team to rally from a 3-0 series deficit and win Game Seven on the road.  The fates, however, decided that two teams should meet again in second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, and the series again went the distance.   

Eager to make a statement after the previous year’s loss, Providence did exactly that in a 4-0 victory in Game One at Mohegan Sun Arena.  The Bruins’ dynamic rookie, Alexander Khokhlachev, provided the gunpowder as Providence burst like a cannon for four goals in the first period.

Just 1:33 into the contest, Khokhlachev beat Peter Mannino for his third goal of the postseason and quickly put the Bruins ahead, 1-0.  Khokhlachev continued his three point-night, setting up Craig Cunningham’s power play goal at 7:03 before Andrew Cherniwchan found the back of the net 45 seconds later.  Khokhlachev needed only another 15 seconds to notch his second goal of the evening and give the Bruins a comfortable 4-0 cushion.  Limited to just 20 shots during the course of regulation, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was unable to mount any sort of comeback in falling in the first game of the best-of-seven series.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton answered in kind in Game Two the following night.  Both Anton Zlobin (2G-1A) and Brian Dumoulin (1G-2A) picked up three points for the Penguins in a 6-1 win pounding of the Bruins.  

After a scoreless first period, the Penguins began an offensive ambush with the help of a power play unit that had been largely dormant during the playoffs.   The attack began at 5:41 of the second with a goal from rookie Conor Sheary, who put in a rebound off of Providence goalie Niklas Svedberg.  Roughly six minutes later, the Bruins knotted the game, 1-1, in similar fashion, as Justin Florek deposited the puck after it bounced off the pads of Mannino.  

The tie lasted less than five minutes as Zlobin found the net at 15:58 and then again, 46 seconds later, on the power play to put the Penguins in the lead, 3-1.  Chuck Kobasew added another marker on the man-advantage for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to make it a three-goal margin with 53 seconds left in the frame. The four-goal output was the most for the Penguins in the playoffs since Game Two of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals versus the Hershey Bears. 

Frustrations boiled over in the third period as the two teams combined for nine misconducts and 118 penalty minutes.  That didn’t stop Tom Kostopoulos from helping the Penguins complete a 3-for-6 effort on the power play and Dumoulin from picking up his second goal of the playoffs.  

With each team throwing their own proverbial haymaker to start the series, the Penguins and Bruins headed up to Providence tied at one in the Eastern Conference Semifinal.

On May 14 in Game Three, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s resilience was on full display during the fourth longest game in team history (86:32) as they rallied back from a three-goal deficit.  

Another scoreless first period gave way to a cluster of goals over the remaining forty minutes of regulation.  Kobasew opened the scoring at 7:14 of the second, but Providence stormed forth with four straight goals during a span of 5:50.  Seth Griffith’s power play goal evened the score at 15:16 of the second and former Penguin Joe Morrow put the Bruins up, 2-1, with 1:24 left until the intermission. 

Fifteen seconds after the start of the third period, Blake Parlett built a two-goal lead for the Bruins before Khokhlachev pushed it to three at 1:06.

With Providence on top by a score of 4-1, the game started to turn in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s favor when Kostopoulos netted a tally at 7:37 during a 5-on-4 advantage.  Simon Despres added another at 12:10 to shave the Bruins’ lead down to one.  It was rookie Conor Sheary making an impact once again, pulling the Penguins even with 5:51 remaining in regulation and sending both teams into an extra period.

Neither team was able to end the game during the first overtime, but at 6:32 of the ensuing period, Despres scored his second goal of the night and the second double-overtime game-winner of his career.  The final result was a 5-4 win for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton that gave them an important 2-1 lead in the series. 

If the Bruins were shocked by the Penguins’ comeback in Game Three, then Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would be absolutely stunned by what transpired at Dunkin’ Donuts Center on May 16.  

Providence was the first on the board at 3:11 of the opening frame thanks to Griffith.  It wasn’t until the second period that the Penguins got the chance to tie the game with a goal from defenseman Reid McNeill at 13:16. Providence had a chance to take back its lead at 2:45 of the third when Nick Johnson was awarded a penalty shot, but Peter Mannino denied the bid to leave the game tied.  

Mannino’s stop proved timely as Sheary gave Wilkes-Barre/Scranton its first lead of the game just over a minute later, and the Penguins looked like they were on their way to taking a 3-1 series lead.  Instead, with goaltender Malcolm Subban pulled for an extra attacker, Cunningham’s one-timer from the far circle knotted the score with a miniscule six tenths of a second left on the clock.  At 6:31 of overtime, the Bruins’ Cory Kane was able to hack a puck inside the far post to hand Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a devastating 3-2 loss.  The series was now tied at two with Game Five on tap for the next night.

With less than 24 hours to think on what had transpired the night prior, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton quickly left Game Four in the past and looked to take the series lead once again.  The scoring began at 12:47 of the first with a slapshot from Ryan Spooner that was tipped home by Cunningham.  The Penguins responded with 3:31 left until the first break on Harry Zolnierczyk’s third of the postseason.  After two failed attempts for the Penguins on the power play, Josh Archibald made the third one count in his pro playoff debut, giving the Penguins the 2-1 edge heading into the second.

The Bruins came out firing in the second period, outshooting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 14-5, on Tyler Randell’s tally at 15:44.  The score remained the same until the 16:20 mark of the third period, when Zlobin gathered his fourth goal of the post-season and third game-winner in a 3-2 victory for the Penguins. 

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton hoped to end the series at home when they took the ice against the Bruins at the Mohegan Sun Arena on May 19, but Providence was able to stave elimination as Khokhlachev registered another three-point effort (2G-1A) in the series for a 4-1 win.  

Despite the Penguins controlling most of the first period and owning a 14-5 shot advantage, they were unable to solve goalie Niklas Svedberg and it remained scoreless after one.  Eight minutes into the second, Khokhlachev gave Providence the 1-0 lead and later picked off a pass to set up Bobby Robins at 12:56 of the frame.  With power play time carrying over into the third period, Khokhlachev converted at 1:36 to put the Bruins up by a score of 3-0.  Sheary got the Penguins on the board with 2:57 left in the contest, but Ryan Spooner answered with an empty-netter and Providence cruised to the win.  For the second straight year, the series between the Penguins and Bruins would come down to a winner-take-all Game Seven.

On May 21 at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, the Penguins took the ice looking to move on to the Eastern Conference Final for the second year in a row, while the Bruins hoped to make amends from Game Seven against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last year.  The Penguins dominated the first period with a 10-3 shot advantage, but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. 

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton more than made up for that in the next period.  In an amazing span of 5:59, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton found the back of the net five times and built a commanding lead by the 7:16 mark of the second. The onslaught began at 1:17 when Anton Zlobin’s pass bounced off Svedberg and across the goal line before Sheary followed that up with another goal at 3:24.  Less than two minutes after that, Jayson Megna scored his first of the postseason creating a 3-0 lead for the Penguins.  Brian Gibbons then took the ensuing faceoff and weaved through all five Providence defenders before slipping a shot between Svedberg’s pads.  Brendan Mikkelson wrapped up Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s flurry, scoring on the man-advantage to give his team a comfortable lead.

David Warsofsky’s shorthanded goal with 54 seconds left in the second got Providence on the board and seemed innocent enough at the time, but it was just be the beginning of the drama to come. 

Only 23 seconds into the third period, Ryan Spooner made the score, 5-2, and things began to get a little tense for those at Mohegan Sun Arena.  The situation went from bad to worse when Khokhlachev scored at both 6:43 and 9:55 of the third to shrink a seemingly insurmountable deficit down to one with plenty of hockey left to be played. 

The final ten minutes of this contest had the feel of a heavyweight bout that had come down to the last minute of the 12th round.  The Bruins, needing the knockout to move on, were throwing every punch they could.  The Penguins, ahead on points, were staggering, but still standing as time slowly dwindled down.  Providence had its chance to get Wilkes-Barre/Scranton down on the mat with a 6-on-4 power play for the final 1:13 of regulation, but Peter Mannino was able to fend off the last-gasp effort as the Penguins held on for a 5-4 victory and take the best-of-seven series.  

For the second straight year and fifth time overall, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton headed to the Conference Final.  It would be another battle against a familiar foe as the IceCaps waited for the Penguins in St. John’s…




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