April 13th, 2018 the Providence Bruins fell apart in the 3rd period against the Charlotte Checkers and lost 3rd place in the Atlantic playoff standings. Over the next two days, they were able to claw back to within a few points, but were hoping for the Checkers to lose to the Sound Tigers on Sunday, April 15th. The Checkers prevailed, and Providence stayed in 4th place. On a brighter note, Providence is 7th in the 30-team AHL standings with a healthy 45-26-5 record through 76 games.
With the regular season ended, Providence has drawn the first place in the Atlantic Division (2nd AHL-wide) Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the Atlantic Division Quarterfinals. In 2017-2018, Providence went 1-4-1 against the Phantoms in the regular season. Their only two wins came at home. In most outings against the Phantoms, the team has scored 3 or fewer goals, including a couple shutouts where no Bruin could solve the Phantoms goaltender.
This doesn’t faze Providence Head Coach Jay Leach.
“You’re going to have to beat them all”, Leach said postgame on April 15th. For what it’s worth, on the same day, one of the Springfield Thunderbirds added Wilkes-Barre Scranton would be a tougher pull for Providence. “They’re a heavier team, built for the playoffs.”
Side note: Josh Ho-Sang who I met at the Bridgeport Game in Bridgeport on April 7th said almost the exact quote word for word about Providence. Either a coincidence, or maybe it’s a generic quote the players are given to say about other teams.
Anyways, Providence opens up the best of 5 game series at home in the Dunkin Donuts Center on Friday, April 20th. Game 2 is played the following night also at the Dunk. After opening the series at home, Providence will travel to Allentown, PA, for the remaining 3 games played on April 27, 28, 30th respectively. Providence will need to win both games at home to have success in the series. With Providence’s only wins against Lehigh Valley coming at the Dunkin Donuts Center, the first two games may decide the outcome. Regardless, winning at least one at home is an absolute must. Fortunately, the regular season isn’t always a barometer for how a playoff matchup will go.
Providence’s Austin Czarnik (25G, 44A) and Lehigh Valley’s Phil Varone (23G, 47A) occupy the 3rd and 2nd spots respectively in AHL scoring for 2017-18. Both are slightly undersized centermen with excellent hands and vision capable of taking over a game at the AHL level. Czarnik, to his credit, has more games at the NHL level than Varone does and could be playing himself into a raise and NHL roster spot come next season. The next highest point getter for either teams is Kenny Agostino, who his far removed from his AHL MVP season with (16G, 37A) and 29th overall; Providence’s Jordan Szwarz with (21G, 27A) comes in next at 47th overall. Lehigh Valley’s Nick Aube-Kubel (18G, 28A) is next at 60th overall, and teammate T. J. Brennan (14G, 31A) rounds out the top point-getters at 67th. Honorable mention here to Lehigh Valley’s Danick Martel at 100th overall, with the highest goal total of everyone mentioned (25G, 15A). For a complete rundown of the Providence Roster (as of April 18th), here’s the AHL’s site.
Between the pipes, the goaltending tandem of Zane McIntyre (16th, 2.52 GAA, 0.914 SV%) and Jordan Binnington (2nd, 2.05 GAA, 0.926 SV%) is better on paper than Lehigh Valley’s netminders. The Phantoms goaltender duo Dustin Tokarski (24th, 2.65 GAA, 0.915 SV%) and Alex Lyon (31st, 2.75 GAA, 0.913 SV%) have won more games, however. In their two wins, Providence thumped Lehigh Valley with a 5 and 6 goal game respectively. In their two losses that weren’t shutouts, Providence posted 2 and 3 goal games to Lehigh Valley’s 3 and 5 goals respectively.
Predictions that will horribly go wrong: I see Providence bowing out in 5 games. They’re loaded with prospects and talent, but the Phantoms have played Providence enough to know where and how to expose the Bruins’ defense and weaknesses. The only way for the Bruins to win is by consistently good starts, or winning the first 20 minutes. Otherwise, the Phantoms will run right over you before the midway point of regulation. I would like to see Providence exercise revenge on the Phantoms in this series as Boston has done to Toronto thus far in their playoff series. The NHL Bruins lost their season series with Toronto, yet are making a stand in the Atlantic division quarterfinals. Hopefully, the farm team of the Black and Gold will follow the same pattern and surprise me by defeating the Phantoms.