By Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson
Week 27 of the AHL season is upon, and with it brings the final three games of the regular season. The Providence Bruins skate into it 37-25-8-3 (85 points) and 5-3-1-1 in their last 10 games. This is could for fourth in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference. With just three games remaining in the regular season the baby B’s magic number to clinch the playoffs is just one. This means, clinching the spot is just a formality at this point, and if the standings stay the same it looks like the Bruins would take on the Atlantic Division-leading Charlotte Checkers in the first round. However, before the excitement of the first round is here, we must finish the final three games this weekend.
The hockey action kicks off on Friday, April 12, 2019, when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms invade Providence, Rhode Island to take on the Bruins at the Dunkin Donuts Center. The exciting hockey action continues Saturday, April 13, 2019, as the Providence Bruins head on the road to take on a familiar foe the Springfield Thunderbirds at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. Massachusetts. Finally, the regular season wraps up on Sunday, April 14, 2019, when the Springfield Thunderbirds fly into town to take on the baby B’s at the Dunk. It should be an exciting end to the 2018-19 AHL regular season!
Friday, April 12, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms (HOME)
The Friday match-up marks the sixth time the Bruins have faced the Phantoms this season. In the first meeting, Lehigh Valley beat Providence 5-4 with the Bruins getting goals from Karson Kuhlman, Cameron Hughes, Colby Cave, and Wiley Sherman. Meanwhile, goalie Dan Vladar was off his game stopping 21 of 26 shots in net. The second meeting between the two teams saw a much better result for the Bruins. The Baby B’s beat the Philadelphia Flyers’ affiliate 6-3 with the Bruins getting goals from Austin Fyten (2), Cameron Hughes (2), Ryan Fitzgerald, and Jordan Szwarz, while goaltender Dan Vladar was good in net stopping 18 of the 21 shots that came his way.
The third match-up was another tough outcome for our boys wearing the spoked P. Lehigh Valley beat Providence 3-1. With Providence getting their lone goal from Joona Koppanen with goaltender Dan Vladar continuing his solid road play stopping 17 of the 19 shots that were fired his way. The fourth battle between the clubs saw the baby B’s win 4-2 getting goals from Gemel Smith (2), Trent Frederic, and Joona Koppanen. Goalie Zane McIntyre was fantastic in net turning away 20 of the 22 shots that were fired his way. The most recent match-up saw the baby B’s win 5-3 getting goals from Lee Stempniak (2), Zach Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, and Gemel Smith. In net, Dan Vladar played well stopping 19 of the 22 shots that were sent his way.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms skate into the game 37-30-4-3 (81 points) and 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. This is good for fifth in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Despite the fact they are on the outside of the playoff picture, this game will not be easy for Providence. Over the past five seasons, the Bruins are 10-12-2-1 against the Flyers’ affiliate including 5-5-1-1 at home. It should be a tough test for our boys in black and gold. There are a few keys to victory if the baby B’s plan on bucking the trend and beating Lehigh Valley. The first is getting a lead and holding onto it. The Providence club is 29-4-2-2 when leading after the second period, and the Phantoms are 26-1 when leading after two.
Special teams will also play a major key in who wins this game. The Flyers’ affiliate boasts the third-best penalty kill in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference at 85.3%. Meanwhile, the baby B’s power play is ranked sixth in the Atlantic Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference at 17.4% On the flip-side the Bruins have the second-best penalty kill in Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference at 85.7% and the Phantoms have the third-best power play in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference at 19.0%. If our boys in black and gold can keep out of the penalty box, they have a good chance of coming out of the game with two points.
Saturday, April 13, 2019 (AWAY), and Sunday, April 14, 2019 (HOME), Providence vs. Springfield Thunderbirds
The weekend home and home marks the 13th, and the 14th time the Bruins and Thunderbirds have faced off this season. In the first meeting, Springfield beat Providence 6-3 with the Bruins getting goals from Zach Senyshyn, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Colby Cave. Meanwhile, goalie Zane McIntyre was a little off his game stopping 14 of 20 shots. The second meeting between the two teams saw a different score with the same result. The Florida Panther’s affiliate beat the Baby B’s 4-2 with the Bruins getting goals from now-departed Martin Bakos and Jan Kovar, while current goalie Zane McIntyre looked much better stopping 17 of 20 shots in net.
The third game of the season series saw the Bruins finally break through and get a win beating the Thunderbirds 5-4. The boys in black and gold got goals from Mark McNeill, Karson Kuhlman, Peter Cehlarik, Jordan Szwarz, and Connor Clifton while Dan Vladar stopped 22 of 26 shots he faced. The next installment of the season series did not go according to plan for the spoked P as they fell to the Springfield club 5-3. Bruins got goals from Zach Senyshyn, Gemel Smith, and Jordan Szwarz. Meanwhile, goalie Dan Vladar was a little off his game despite facing a barrage of shots stopping 34 of 39 he faced. Part five of the season series was a good one for the boys in black and gold. The Bruins beat the Thunderbirds 4-3 getting goals from Peter Cehlarik (2), Trent Frederic, and Paul Carey. Meanwhile, goalie Zane McIntyre continued to play well as he turned away 19 of the 22 shots he faced.
The sixth part in the season series saw the Panthers’ affiliate beat the spoked P 3-2 in overtime. The Baby B’s were able to get goals from Gemel Smith, and Cameron Hughes with Dan Vladar giving a tremendous effort in net stopping 38 of the 41 shots he faced. The seventh showdown saw the boys in black and gold win 2-1 in a shootout getting goals from Karson Kuhlman, and Trent Frederic netted the winning shootout goal. Zane McIntyre was excellent in net turning away 23 of the 24 shots he faced. The eighth throw-down between the two clubs saw the Providence hockey club win 3-2 getting goals from Mark McNeill, Gemel Smith, and Zach Senyshyn. Goalie Zane McIntyre was great in net stopping 22 of 24 shots that came his way.
The ninth meeting saw the Thunderbirds win 5-1 with the Bruins getting their lone goal from Jordan Szwarz. Goalie Zane McIntyre had a rough game in net stopping 21 of 26 shots that were fired his way. The 10th battle between the Providence Bruins and the Springfield Thunderbirds saw the baby B’s fall 4-2 getting goals from Paul Carey and Emil Johansson. Goalie Dan Vladar turned away 28 of the 31 shots that were fired his way. The 11th chapter of the long season series saw the Bruins come out on top 5-2 getting goals from Paul Carey (2), Urho Vaakanainen (2), and Connor Clifton. Goalie Zane McIntyre stopped 27 out of the 29 shots that came his way. The most recent battle saw the Bruins fall 3-1 getting their one goal from Urho Vaakanainen. In net, Zane McIntyre was good turning away 20 of the 23 shots fired his way.
The Springfield Thunderbirds come into the weekend home and home series 31-28-9-5 (76 points) and 5-3-2 in their last 10 games. This is good for seventh in the Atlantic Division and 12th in the Eastern Conference. Despite having a rough season against the Panthers’ affiliate this year, the Baby B’s have played well against them over the past five years going 22-13-3. They also have almost identical records at home and on the road in that time frame. This bodes well for the weekend series. Defense again will play a major role in who wins this game. The Thunderbirds have scored 234 goals in the 73 games they’ve played this season which is 3.20 goals a game their problem is they’ve given up 233 goals in that time frame as well which is 3.19 per game and a goal differential of just one.
Providence’s defense, on the other hand, is quite good giving up only 199 goals in their 73 games which is only 2.72 goals a game. Their offense is no slouch either scoring 219 goals in 73 games which is 3.00 goals a game and a goal differential of 20. The other big key is again who had the lead after two periods. Despite their position in the standings the club from Springfield Massachusetts is 24-1-2 when leading after two periods and 1-25-1-2 when down after two periods. Meanwhile, the Baby B’s are 29-4-2-2 when leading after two and 4-20-3 when trailing after the second period. It should be an exciting game that you do not want to miss.
Who’s hot and Who’s not for the Bruins
Paul Carey: Paul Carey has made his way into the hot category once again. It seems like he’s here every other week, but that’s just a testament to how well he’s been playing for Providence since being traded from Ottawa in early January. In 29 games with the baby B’s, the former Boston College Eagle has netted 21 goals while tallying 11 assists for 32 total points. That’s a point per game total of 1.10. That includes netting five goals and dishing out four assists for nine total points in his last five games. The two-time NCAA champion was so good this week he was named the CCM/AHL player of the week. Hopefully, the scoring continues as the playoffs come to a beginning.
Cooper Zech: Cooper Zech is new to the weekly hot or not list. Signing his first contract the second week of March, the young defenseman came to Providence by way of Ferris State. While a freshman at Ferris State, he led the team in scoring netting eight goals and dishing out 20 assists for 28 total points in 36 games. That’s a point per game clip of 0.78. In 10 games since coming to Providence, the 20-year old has not found the back of the net but has dished out four assists while playing great defense. This includes the nice little three-game point streak that he is currently on. Let’s hope he can continue his play through the end of the season and the playoffs.
Ryan Fitzgerald: At one point during the season, Ryan Fitzgerald was the Providence Bruins’ best forward. You could have made the case that he deserved to be called up to Boston to get a shot with the big club. However, injuries hampered the former Boston College Eagle’s season. In his past nine games, the young forward has netted one goal while also dishing out one assist for two total points. Despite this, the season hasn’t been all bad. In 58 games, the 24-year old has netted nine goals and dished out 26 assists for 35 total points. Hopefully, the gritty forward can pick up his play as we head towards the playoffs.
Mark McNeill: Mark McNeill has been on a bit of a cold streak. The gritty forward started out by having a very good year, but since has dropped off a bit. The WHL product in 54 games, has netted eight goals and dished out 17 assists for 25 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.46. Despite this, in his last 22 games, the veteran has netted one goal and dished out two assists for three total points. This means, before the cold streak he had netted seven goals and dished out 15 assists for 22 points in 32 games. The Providence Bruins are hoping he can find the scoring touch again as we come to the end of the season.
My players to watch this weekend
Gemel Smith: Gemel Smith has been excellent since being traded to Boston from Dallas in December. In 44 games with the Providence Bruins, the young forward has netted 15 goals and dished out 21 assists for 36 total points. That’s a point per game total of 0.81. As good as the OHL product has been overall, he’s been exceptionally good against Lehigh Valley and Springfield this season. In 13 games against the two hockey clubs this season, Smith has netted six goals and dished out seven assists for 13 total points. This means that 36% of his total points have come against these two teams. Hopefully, the winger can continue that hot play this weekend.
On the Blue Line
Urho Vaakanainen: Despite missing time because of injuries and the World Junior Championships, Urho Vaakanainen has had an excellent first professional season with the Providence Bruins. In 29 games with the Baby B’s the young defenseman has netted four goals while dishing out 10 assists for 14 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.48. This is much higher than his Finnish Liiga days of 0.21 (7-16-23 in 109 games). To top it off, the rookie has played very well against Springfield. In eight games against the Thunderbirds, he has netted three goals while dishing out five assists for eight total points. This means 57% of his points have come against the Panthers’ affiliate. Hopefully, the young defenseman can carry that play into this weekend.
Zane McIntyre: Zane McIntyre is another guy that has had an interesting season. On the year, the veteran netminder is 25-12-7 with a goals against average of 2.48, and a save percentage of .901. Mid-season the Providence Bruins went on an impressive point streak, and at the time neither goalie had really solidified himself as the number one guy. McIntyre was able to anchor the backend of the defense and do just that. To top it off, he has been a lot better at home than on the road this season with 20 of his 25 wins coming at the Dunk. With two of three games in Providence this weekend, look for him to be essential in the baby B’s success.
The Providence Bruins are currently sitting in playoff position by four points. With 3 games remaining the team’s magic number is 1. The magic number is the number of points needed to clinch the playoff spot. The magic number goes down when it earns points either with victory, or overtime/shootout losses. The magic number also goes down when the team with the highest possible point total that isn’t currently in playoff position, loses. This means the Providence club just needs to at the very least let one of the next three games go to overtime, and they will make the playoffs.
Now, hopefully, they can win a few of these last three games and gain some momentum going into the post-season. Unless the Bruins move up in the standings, it looks their first-round match-up will be against the Division and Conference-leading Charlotte Checkers, a team that the boys in black and gold went 4-3-1 against this season. We will catch up with you next week to let you know how the team fared but feel free to send any questions or comments to me on Twitter. I hope everyone enjoys the final three games of the season and Go, B’s, Go!