By: James Swindells | Follow me on Twitter @jimswindells68
Looking to improve upon their recent stretch in which they have won four of their last five outings, the Providence Bruins began their first 3-in-3 weekend since the weekend before Thanksgiving. The top AHL affiliate of the Boston Bruins headed into the weekend holding second place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division, three points behind the Hershey Bears.
Providence kicked off the weekend on Friday night with the Utica Comets returning to The AMP, where the Comets defeated Providence last Sunday 2-1. The weekend wraps up on Saturday and Sunday with a home-and-home matchup with the cellar-dwelling Hartford Wolf Pack, the top AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers.
This week two P-Bruins, Brandon Bussi and Vinni Lettieri, were named to represent Providence in the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic on February 5th and 6th in Laval, Quebec. In the middle of a splendid rookie season, Bussi sports a record of 11-2-3 with a 2.17 GAA and an AHL-leading .934 SV%. Meanwhile, Lettieri leads all Providence skaters in scoring with 12 goals and 16 assists and in power-play goals with seven and shots on net with 97. Bussi and Lettieri have been integral parts of Providence’s success this season, as the team has been at the top of the AHL’s standings all season.
FRIDAY VS. UTICA COMETS
Providence head coach Ryan Mougenel gave rookie netminder Brandon Bussi the start to open the weekend against the Comets. Utica countered with Nico Daws, who was selected to represent Utica at next month’s All-Star Classic, between the pipes and looked to extend the Comets’ current four-game winning streak and a 10-0-2 run dating back to December 16th.
In contrast to last Sunday’s start versus Nico Daws, Providence unleashed 17 first-period shots at the Comets’ netminder. The P-Bruins were handed two power play opportunities in the opening frame, and while putting several quality shots on Daws, the AHL’s 30th-ranked PP unit failed to deliver the game’s opening score. While Providence struggles with the man advantage, they excel in even-strength situations. That is where they took advantage of a solid opening period and managed the ever-important first score.
Mark McLaughlin intercepted an errant Comets pass from the Providence blue line and delivered a stretch pass to a streaking Jakub Lauko. Lauko recognized the opportunity on the errant pass by Tyler Wotherspoon and jumped in behind Wotherspoon and his defensive partner Simon Nemec. With no defenders on him, Lauko picked up McLaughlin’s pass, skated in on Daws all alone, and slipped the puck between his legs, giving Lauko his sixth goal of the season and the P-Bruins the 1-0 lead with 5:01 left in the first period.
The Lauko score held up through the remainder of the first period and with plenty of help in the second period by Bussi. Bussi turned aside the first 19 shots from Utica and managed a handful of quality scoring chances by the Comets in the middle frame as they mounted a far more effective attack than shown in the opening 20 minutes. Utica evened the score at one off a turnover by Connor Carrick as his clearing attempt found the Comets’ Tyce Thompson. Thompson picked up Carrick’s stray pass inside the Providence zone and quickly snapped off a shot that beat Bussi.
Fresh off the Thompson goal, Utica got a pair of 5-on-3-man advantages. Fabian Lysell and Jack Ahcan took penalties to close out the second period, while Josiah Didier opened the final frame with a high-sticking call. Bussi stopped all six shots he faced, and the Providence PK unit killed off the pair of two-man advantages.
As Didier exited the penalty box, Mark McLaughlin was doggedly pursuing the puck through the neutral zone. McLaughlin’s perseverance paid off as he stripped the puck from Utica’s Joe Gambardella and wristed a shot that Daws had an easy play on. The puck took a crazy bounce at the faceoff circle and skipped to Daws’ left and into the wide-open net. McLaughlin’s hard work, paired with the puck’s odd behavior, gave Providence its second lead of the game, and as is so often the case with this P-Bruins squad, quickly extended their lead.
The red-hot Justin Brazeau gave Providence an insurance goal 51 seconds later, and his eventual game-winner would be his ninth of the season and his fourth goal in his last three outings. With Providence mounting more pressure following McLaughlin’s tally, their tenacious forecheck paid dividends with a Utica turnover as Kai Wissmann found Jack Ahcan at the point. Ahcan glided through the slot as Brazeau stood at the top of the crease, rotating toward the puck. Ahcan guided the puck to Brazeau’s stick, and the 6’5″, 245-pound forward shoveled the puck into the net, extending the P-Bruins lead to 3-1 with 16:42 to go.
Utica cut the two-goal deficit in half with Graeme Clark’s 14th of the season at 8:48, but Providence clamped down defensively and held the Comets to two shots after the Clark tally. The P-Bruins secured their 21st victory as Brandon Bussi, and the Providence PK unit shone over the final 30 minutes to keep them within three points of division-leading Hershey.
Utica and Providence finished the game with 37 shots apiece. Brandon Bussi improved his record to 12-2-3-1 with a 2.16 GAA and .935 SV%. Justin Brazeau’s ninth goal of the season extended his point streak to six games (4G, 4A). Providence’s PK unit went a perfect 3-for-3 as they moved up to 6th in the AHL at 83.2%. The PP-Bruins’power play went 0-for-3, dipping their ranking to 31st in the AHL at 14.2%. The announced crowd of 8177 at The AMP saw Providence improve their home record to 8-4-3-2.
3rd Star – Graeme Clark (Utica)
2nd Star – Justin Brazeau (Providence)
1st Star – Mark McLaughlin (Providence)
SATURDAY AT HARTFORD WOLF PACK
Saturday night’s meeting versus Hartford would be the first of five consecutive games with the Wolf Pack and Providence’s first visit to the XL Center. The odd scheduling quirk will likely ramp up hostilities between the Atlantic Division rivals as they wrap up their five-game set on January 27th in Providence. In their only game this season, the P-Bruins defeated the Wolf Pack 3-1 at The AMP as Keith Kinkaid turned away 46 Hartford shots.
Kinkaid (5-5-3, 3.35 GAA and a .907 SV%) received the call in net for Providence as he matched up with the Wolf Pack’s Dylan Garand (4-7-3-2, 3.27 GAA and a .886 SV%). Joona Koppanen returned to action for Providence after his call-up during the week in which he made his NHL debut for Boston vs. the Seattle Kraken. Nick Wolff, Mike Reilly, and Alex-Olivier Voyer all drew back into the lineup for Providence.
Providence got off to another quick start as Jack Ahcan took a pass from Michael Callahan across the length of the blue line and snapped a shot toward netfront traffic. Ahcan’s shot found Koppanen’s stick blade, and the puck redirected through Garand’s legs. Koppanen’s redirect had just enough steam to creep across the goal line and gave the P-Bruins the early 1-0 just over six minutes into the game.
Following Koppanen’s tally, Ahcan received a holding call that killed any momentum the P-Bruins had seized. Hartford possesses the AHL’s worst power-play unit, and Providence had an easy time killing Ahcan’s penalty as Hartford failed to post a single shot. Hartford’s Austin Reuschhoff gave the P-Bruins their first chance with the man advantage at 10:16, and the AHL’s 31st-ranked power play unit went to work. In a trend that repeated throughout the game, the P-Bruins surrendered golden shorthanded bids to the Wolf Pack. Thankfully, Kinkaid stood tall for Providence and prevented Hartford from earning any backbreaking shorthanded scores.
Hartford gave the P-Bruins another chance to extend their 1-0 lead as the Wolf Pack’s Zac Jones was whistled for hooking at 15:04. Providence put three shots and significant pressure on Garand but failed to push Hartford’s deficit to two goals. With Jones departing the penalty box, Hartford’s Ryan Carpenter sent a stretch pass to Jones, who slipped behind two Providence defenders. Jones corralled Carpenter’s pass to Kinkaid’s left and gave him a head fake; Jones proceeded to attack the far side of Kinkaid’s cage. Jones tucked the puck past Kinkaid’s outstretched right skate with a second effort, and Hartford had the equalizer with 2:46 remaining in the opening stanza.
Providence opened the middle frame looking for improvement on the latter stages of the first period. They gained ground with good territorial play, but by the period’s midway point, they had managed a mere three shots. As little as Providence did moving the needle offensively, Hartford trudged through the period looking for any form of territorial play as they were held to a single shot.
Hartford’s PP unit went back out as Mike Reilly went to the penalty bench for interference with 7:30 left in the period. Hartford managed one shot as Providence’s PK unit continued its recent stretch of shutdown hockey. On the shift after the Reilly penalty kill, Hartford caught Providence deep in their zone and forced an errant centering pass by Jakub Lauko. Hartford’s Brandon Scanlin scooped up Lauko’s pass, and the Wolf Pack were off to the races on a 4-on-2 rush to the Providence zone. As Scanlin crashed the net, he dished off to Ben Tardif, who found Matt Rempe streaking uncovered in the slot. Rempe’s shot beat Kinkaid as Scanlin breached the top of the crease and landed on Kinkaid.
Providence’s PP unit headed out for its third and final time of the night, and even with another round of sustained pressure on Garand, the P-Bruins failed on their man advantage and surrendered two point-blank shorthanded chances to Hartford’s Tanner Fritz. Kinkaid saved the Providence PP unit once again and prevented Hartford from extending its 2-1 lead.
Starting the final period, Providence gave Hartford two more opportunities with the man advantage. As was the case since the opening 20 minutes, the P-Bruins PK unit kept Providence’s hopes alive by preventing all four of the Wolf Pack power play chances on the night. Kinkaid came up big several times in the final 20 minutes as he kept hope alive for a Providence equalizing goal.
Providence coach Ryan Mougenel pulled Kinkaid with 1:46 to go, and the P-Bruins were unsuccessful in their search for the game-tying goal. Hartford’s Will Cuylle added an empty net insurance goal with 1:06 to go as the Wolf Pack locked up their third consecutive win.
Hartford outshot the P-Bruins 35-28. Keith Kinkaid’s record dipped below .500 to 5-6-3 with a 3.27 GAA and a .910 SV%. Joona Koppanen’s sixth goal of the season gave him six points in his last five games. Jack Ahcan’s 16th assist on the Koppanen score moved him one point behind team leader Georgii Merkulov. The crowd of 6189 at the XL Center saw Hartford snap Providence’s four-game road winning streak.
3rd Star – Zac Jones (Hartford)
2nd Star – Dylan Garand (Hartford)
1st Star – Matt Rempe (Hartford)
SUNDAY VS. HARTFORD WOLF PACK
Providence returned to The AMP and closed out their weekend 3-in-3, looking to exact revenge on Hartford for their 3-1 victory at the XL Center on Saturday night. Kyle Keyser (4-0-1, 1.87 GAA and a .931 SV%) returned to the cage for his first start for the P-Bruins since recovering from a lower-body injury sustained on November 5th at Springfield. Keyser was opposed by Louis Domingue (9-6-5, 2.34 GAA, .913 SV%), who is 2-0-0-2 in his last four starts for Hartford.
Another quick start to a game for Providence as they piled up shots early and often on Hartford’s goaltender Louis Domingue. A strong edge in territorial play led to Providence tallying the game’s first score. Jakub Lauko got an easy exit out of Providence’s defensive zone and sent Mike Reilly with puck possession into Hartford’s zone. Upon entry to the Wolf Pack zone, Lauko sent Justin Brazeau in from the right wing, and Brazeau snapped a shot that beat Domingue to the far post. Brazeau’s tenth goal of the season pushed the P-Bruins out to a 1-0 lead at 9:51.
Domingue stonewalled Oskar Steen on a quick reaction blocker save to keep Hartford at a one-goal deficit. Steen’s missed chance became the score equalizer as Hartford worked the puck around the P-Bruins zone. Zac Jones went point-to-point with the puck to Ty Emberson. Emberson’s shot from Providence’s blue line beat Kyle Keyser over the shoulder and through netfront traffic. Just 2:30 after Brazeau opened the scoring, Emberson gave Hartford new life as they fought to wrestle puck possession from Providence and find sustained pressure.
Working on a strong forecheck, Providence regained the lead with 3:19 to go in the opening frame. Brazeau won a puck battle on the right wing. Brazeau came off the boards with the puck and dropped a quick shot on Domingue. Mark McLaughlin trailed behind Brazeau, picked up Domingue’s rebound, and deposited it behind the Hartford netminder. After a strong period in which Providence totaled 18 shots and numerous scoring chances, Providence had had their best period since the final frame versus Utica on Friday evening.
The majority of the first half of the middle period was a struggle for control. Both teams found little momentum, even as Providence’s Dan Renouf took a penalty at 3:39. Hartford took two perimeter shots that Keyser handled easily. The AHL’s worst power play unit went empty-handed on their only PP chance of the afternoon.
The Wolf Pack’s best scoring chance of the period came on a breakaway bid by Bobby Trivigno. Keyser slammed the five-hole shut on Trivigno, held his ground on the rebound chance, and kept Providence staked to their one-goal edge.
The pace and physicality picked up significantly after JD Greenway and Hartford’s Matt Rempe dropped the gloves at 11:40. Rempe was the clear and unanimous victor in the brawl. Still, the fray brought both teams to life. Trivigno was called for roughing 45 seconds after the Greenway-Rempe tussle for pinning Chris Wagner to the ice and gave the P-Bruins their first go-round with the man advantage. Domingue thwarted the Providence PP unit’s three shots on net during the 5-on-4, and the middle period ended as it had started, with the P-Bruins possessing a 2-1 lead.
The third period held form to its predecessor, as both teams traded chances in a back-and-forth period. Keyser and Domingue played a game of oneupmanship as both kept the opposition at bay. Domingue had held Providence scoreless since McLaughlin’s goal late in the first period and had since turned away 23 shots. Keyser held off Hartford’s attempts at knotting the game at two apiece but was the netminder who blinked first.
Georgii Merkulov lost an edge and turned over the puck to Zac Jones. Jones sent Tanner Fritz in alone on a breakaway versus Keyser. Fritz netted his third of the season, and the Wolf Pack had the game-tying goal with 9:45 to go. The teams earned a point each in the standings as neither goaltender relented the rest of the way, setting up overtime to determine who posted the extra point in the standings.
The overtime session saw Ahcan, Lysell, and Lettieri play keep away with Hartford’s trio of defenders. Lysell fed an undefended Lettieri in the left faceoff dot. Lettieri buried Lysell’s one-time offering behind Domingue to clinch the victory with just 26 seconds expired in the extra frame.
Providence outshot the Wolf Pack 39-31. Kyle Keyser improved his record to 5-0-1 with a 1.89 GAA and a .931 SV%. Justin Brazeau’s goal and assist gave him ten points in his last eight games. Vinni Lettieri’s game-winner snapped his four-game drought without a point. Providence’s PP unit went 0-for-7 during the weekend’s three games and remained 31st in the AHL at 13.8%. The red-hot P-Bruins PK unit went a perfect 8-for-8 vs. Utica and Hartford as their ranking improved to 5th in the AHL at 83.8%. The announced crowd of 10,159 at The AMP saw Providence improve its home record to 9-4-3-2. With Atlantic Division-leading Hershey idle on Sunday, Providence stands three points behind the Bears. Providence returns to action next weekend with a pair of games against Hartford. The teams return to the XL Center in Hartford on Friday, January 20th, and wrap up the weekend on Sunday, January 22nd, in a matinee meeting at The AMP.
3rd Star – Tanner Fritz (Hartford)
2nd Star – Justin Brazeau (Providence)
1st Star – Vinni Lettieri (Providence)
Providence Bruins Home Game Ticket Information
If you would like to attend the 2022-23 Providence Bruins regular season home games at the Amica Mutual Pavilion, fans can choose from Black Level (20 games), White Level (10 games), or FlexTix Season Memberships. To become a member and reserve seats, please visit providencebruins.com/memberships or contact CJ Tsoumakas at 401.680.4738 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Single-game tickets can be purchased at the Providence Bruins’ official website at providencebruins.com.
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AHLTV offers team packages of $39.99 for single-team Home and Away games in the regular season, $29.99 for single-team away games, or $29.99 to watch your team play at home for the upcoming regular season.