Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season in Review:
Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. Providence
by Jen Dobias
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins took the ice in 2012-13 for their 14th season of play and looking to come on top of the rough and tumble East Division. With the NHL lockout providing the backdrop for the first half of the season, the Penguins seemed to find their stride over the final two months of the regular season en route to their 11th consecutive Calder Cup Playoff appearance. We now turn to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s run through the postseason as break things down, series-by-series.
After dispatching the Binghamton Senators in three games in the first round, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins moved on to face the Providence Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinal. The regular season champions had battled back from a 0-2 deficit in their opening-round match-up versus the Hershey Bears to claim the series in five games. Little did anyone know that the Penguins would follow a similar script versus the Bruins and make history in the process.
The main question leading into the semifinal was which team benefit most from the previous series. Would it be the Penguins with eight days of rest coming off a three-game sweep of Binghamton or the Bruins, who were fresh off the high of their first-round victory over Hershey?
The series was expected to be tightly-checked and low-scoring, as the Bruins and Penguins were the top two defensive teams in the AHL during the regular season. But Game One far from lived up to that billing as the teams combined for 13 goals, the most in an AHL playoff game in almost six years.
In the opening frame, it seemed that the time off better served the Penguins, who outshot the Bruins by a 17-6 margin. After the Penguins were awarded their fifth penalty shot in team playoff history, Chad Kolarik capitalized, banking a shot off the post and in to put the Penguins up one. Providence responded late in the period on Ryan Spooner’s first of the playoffs to make it 1-1 after one.
The floodgates opened in the second period as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Providence combined for six goals in an eight-minute span. The score was knotted at two when Bruins scored three unanswered in less than four minutes to jump out to a 5-2 lead just past the halfway mark. Paul Thompson’s power play marker brought the Penguins back within two at 12:43 in the frame.
Five minutes into the the final frame, the Bruins pushed their lead to back to three, but the Penguins began to rally with less than four minutes left in regulation. Goals 48 seconds apart by Chris Collins and Thompson shrunk Providence’s lead to a single goal. On the very next shift, Chris Bourque beat Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff to thwart the potential comeback. The end result was an 8-5 win over the Bruins and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Bourque led all skaters with four points (1g-3a) while Jamie Tardif also notched two goals for the Bruins. Thompson led his team with three points (2g-1a).
It was in part Niklas Svedberg’s strong showing in net helped Providence weather Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s offensive onslaught in the second game of the series. The Penguins outshot the Bruins, 40-29, but Svedberg made 38 saves, including 19 in the final frame. Ultimately, it was Providence’s quick strike offense that once again led the team to a 4-2 victory.
Things looked promising for Wilkes-Barer/Scranton when Warren Peters’s shorthanded marker gave the Penguins the dge at 4:40 of the first. As was the case in the first game, the Bruins responded quickly and ruthlessly. Tardif tied the game less than two minutes later with a two-man advantage and would strike again on the power play late in the period as part of a four-goal outburst that allowed the Bruins to take a commanding 4-1 lead into the intermission. That proved more than enough to skate on to a 4-2 victory. Tardiff (2g-2a) and Bourque (1g-2a) led the charge for Providence.
As the series returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Bruins’ defense took two hits that changed the complexion of the series. Torey Krug joined fellow blueliner Matt Bartkowski on recall to the Boston Bruins and Zach Trotman suffered an upper-body injury that would see him miss the rest of the series. The Penguins would see a change in their lineup as well, giving goalie Brad Thiessen the start for Game Three.
The third meeting showcased Providence and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at their defensive finest. Jared Knight opened the scoring for Providence just over three minutes into the second frame. Trevor Smith netted the equalizer off a rebound near the halfway mark of the period.
In the final frame, both teams were unable to find the back of the net and the game went to overtime deadlocked at one. Just 31 seconds into the extra frame, Carter Camper pushed home a rebound to lift the Bruins to a 2-1 win and a commanding 3-0 series lead.
To make history, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton first had to venture to the edge of the abyss. Led by Thiessen and bolstered by strong offensive performances by some unlikely heroes, the Penguins came charging back into the series.
Trying to put a clamp on the series, the Bruins put forth their best defensive effort, limiting the Penguins to just 22 shots. It was Thiessen, though, that began to assert his will on the Eastern Conference Semifinal to keep the Providence offense at bay.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton found itself behind 1-0 after the first, but responded with three unanswered goals in the second. Peters got the scoring started 6:25 into the frame, collecting a pass from Adam Payerl and taking advantage of screen in front to beat Svedberg. After corralling a deflected Joey Mormina shot, Holzapfel’s wrister found the back of the net at 16:10. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton went on the power play just 33 seconds later and struck again, as Kolarik deflected Mormina’s shot in front to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead.
Thiessen made sure the score held, stopping 31-of-32 shots. With an assist on all three Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goals, Mormina led all players with three points.
A 30-save shutout performance by Thiessen and an effective power play led the Penguins past the Bruins in Game Five in Wilkes-Barre. In a physical, fight-filled contest, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took advantage of two power plays in the first to sprint out to a 2-0 lead thanks to tallies by Brian Dumoulin and Trevor Smith. After a scoreless second, Payerl pushed the Penguins cushion to three at 3:39 of the period.
The remainder of the third period became a penalty-filled affair with both teams combining for 76 penalty minutes. A old-fashioned 5-on-5 brawl broke out at 14:37 after a collision in front of Thiessen saw Providence’s Graham Mink land several punches on the back of the goaltender’s head before being tackled to the ice by an on-ice official. The resulting two-man advantage allowed Thompson to add the game’s final goal with 3:16 left.
It was Thiessen’s third-career playoff shutout. A defenseman again led the Penguins in points, as Dumoulin tallied the game-winning goal and two assists in the contest. All of a sudden, the calm and collected Penguins had all the momentum as the series shifted back to Providence.
The day off served the home team well as the Bruins owned Game Six and only a miraculous performance by Thiessen helped Wilkes-Barre/Scranton force a win-or-go-home seventh game. Despite being outshot 47-18, the Penguins came out on top thanks to their veteran goalie.
The first period ended with both teams still searching for a goal, but it was Craig Cunningham who took advantage of a Penguins line change to get the Bruins on the board 1:07 into the second frame. Five minutes later, with two Bruins in the box, Dumoulin roofed a shot past Svedberg and in to tie the game.
Having already outshot Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 13-3, in the second period, Providence completely dominated the third frame. Although not facing elimination, the Bruins came out like a team on the brink. They limited the Penguins to only two shots and rattled off 20 of their own, but Thiessen held fast and the teams went to overtime knotted at 1-1.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton came out strong in the extra frame and quickly solved Svedberg to send the series to a decisive seventh game. Trevor Smith picked up a loose puck behind the net and wrapped it inside the left post at 3:26 to keep force a decisive Game Seven.
Thiessen’s 46 saves were the most by a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie in the postseason since Nolan Schaefer made 50 on May 4, 2007.
The final game was a nail biter through the first period, though the Bruins controlled the majority of the offensive play. Kolarik put a crack in the dam and broke a scoreless tie with the extra attacker 4:44 into the second. The walls then came tumbling down as Peters, Payerl and Zach Sill all scored in a span of 4:11 to give the Penguins a commanding 4-0 lead going into the locker room. Smith completed the scoring at 15:25 of the final frame and Thiessen made 34 saves to blank the Bruins and seal the 5-0 win.
Thiessen was the star of the series with a 0.978 save pct. and a 0.70 GAA. Smith (4g-4a) and Kolarik (3g-3a) were the top offensive performers for the Penguins, who were also bolstered by strong play from blueliners Mormina (5a) and Dumoulin (5a).
Down 0-3 and facing elimination, the Penguins became only the third AHL team to come from behind to win the series and the first to win Game Seven on the road.
After making history against the first-overall seed, the Penguins braced for their next challenge against the East Division champs and third-seeded Syracuse Crunch in the Eastern Conference Finals.
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