By: James Swindells | Follow me on Twitter @jimswindells68
The Providence Bruins welcomed the Hershey Bears to The AMP on Wednesday night for the sixth and final meeting of the season between the frontrunners in the AHL’s Atlantic Division. Hershey (41-16-5-4, 91 points) came to the capital city looking to extend their lead over Providence (40-16-8-2, 90 points) to three points and move them closer to claiming the Atlantic Division. The P-Bruins looked to claim their fifth victory versus the Bears in the season series. After losing the season’s first meeting on December 28th in Hershey, Providence has reeled off four consecutive wins, including, most recently, a 5-3 triumph back on March 12th at The AMP.
Providence head coach Ryan Mougenel would get to add the Boston Bruins 2020 second-round selection Mason Lohrei to the lineup for Wednesday’s tilt. Lohrei, fresh off his sophomore season at Ohio State University, signed an ATO (amateur tryout) contract with Providence on March 31st. The 6’4″ 210-pound native of Madison, WI, compiled 61 points (8G, 53 A) in 71 games in his two seasons with the Buckeyes. Lohrei has received lofty praise in his two seasons in Columbus, with comparisons in his game made to Colorado Avalanche defender Cale Makar.
Lohrei was paired with veteran blue liner and P-Bruins captain Josiah Didier in his first professional game. Providence welcomed back Vinni Lettieri from a lower-body injury he sustained on March 12th and looked to inject some life into a P-Bruins offense that has become lifeless in the last two outings. Mougenel sent Kyle Keyser (11-4-2-1) to the crease versus Hunter Shepard for Hershey.
The P-Bruins jumped on the Bears early in the opening period as Shane Bowers broke through with his first goal since being acquired from Colorado on February 25th. Bowers deflected a point shot from Michael Callahan in a netfront battle with Hershey’s Gabriel Carlsson. Bowers’ tally would hold through the remainder of the first frame as Shepard managed 14 saves and minimized the damage, keeping Hershey within range as they looked to adjust their gameplan during intermission.
Providence withstood an early attack by the Bears as the teams started the middle period. Keyser kept the Bears off the scoresheet, and the game took on a playoff-like tone as the physicality of both teams increased. Every stoppage brought scrum after scrum, as the importance of the two points in the standings was clear.
Bowers struck for the second time with 6:05 left in the second period. His sixth goal of the season came about by a heads-up play by Vinni Lettieri, who lunged at a puck that had squirted past Hershey’s Garrett Pilon. Lettieri went horizontal with the ice sheet and swept the puck to Bowers, who pounded the puck into Shepard’s cage. Providence took their two-goal lead into the final period and was 20 minutes away from reclaiming the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
Keyser had stopped all 15 shots by Hershey in the games opening 40 minutes and would be tested mightily over the final 20 minutes as the Bears would play a desperate brand of hockey in hopes of getting back into the game. The P-Bruins were outshot 14-4 in the third period and struggled to push any offensive pressure on Shepard. At 3:19, Beck Malenstyn finally gave the Bears the glimmer of hope they had been searching for.
Malenstyn worked out from behind Keyser’s net, and after jamming at the puck, the Bears forward celebrated as he deposited the puck past Keyser. The play went to review, and Malenstyn was eventually rewarded with his seventh goal of the season. Hershey had over 16 minutes left on the clock to find the equalizing goal and try to come away from The AMP with at least one point in the standings.
Keyser and his P-Bruins teammates came under heavy fire over the final 16 minutes as Hershey dictated play and kept Providence on its heels. During Hershey’s furious onslaught, Keyser turned aside every attempt and carried Providence through the period. Hershey head coach Todd Nelson pulled Shepard with 84 seconds left, and the Bears kept the P-Bruins hemmed in their zone until Vinni Lettieri corralled a loose puck and sent it 200 feet into Shepard’s vacant net, assuring Providence their fifth victory in six meetings with Hershey.
The P-Bruins move into the season’s final five games and hold a one-point lead over Hershey. Both teams will have first-round byes in the upcoming AHL playoffs and have been the clear-cut class of the Atlantic Division. Providence will host four of its final five games and head to Springfield for their lone road game over the season’s last ten days. A final ten days that will ultimately decide whether Hershey or Providence will lay claim to the Atlantic Division title.
BLACK N’ GOLD THREE STARS OF THE GAME
3rd Star – Vinni Lettieri (Providence) – 1G, 1A
2nd Star – Kyle Keyser (Providence) – 12th Win, 28 Saves
1st Star – Shane Bowers (Providence) 2 Goals
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