Craig Cunningham scores hat trick as Bruins secure first in Atlantic

Providence, RI -- The Providence Bruins defeated the Portland Pirates 7-1 this afternoon at the Dunkin' Donuts CenterCraig Cunningham scored a hat trick and Justin Florek added two goals and Christian Hanson and Jordan Caron also scored. Niklas Svedberg posted 29 saves as the Bruins improve to 33-18-0-5 on the season.

Play started off fast and physical in the matchup for the Atlantic Division lead. The Bruins, who came into the contest with a two point cushion on the second place Pirates, got the scoring started at 7:23 when Florek stuffed a rebound from Kevan Miller's shot past a sprawling Mike Lee for his sixth goal of the season. Matt Bartkowski also assisted on the play. Play took a physical turn halfway through the first. Miller sent a Pirate to the ice. Phil Lane came to his defense, but Miller quickly put him in his place, ripping his helmet off and sending him to the ice with a few punches. The Bruins were charged with a roughing penalty at 17:44, giving the Pirates their fourth power play of the game. However, the Bruins kept the pressure on and Hanson caused a turnover at 18:27 and ripped a shot past Lee to give the Bruins a shorthanded goal and a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission.

The Pirates, clearly frustrated, registered two penalties, including one fight, in the first three minutes of the second period. The Bruins capitalized on the man advantage, when Ryan Spooner's pass through the slot was deflected right to Cunningham in the left circle. Cunningham ripped a shot past Lee to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead and their second special teams goal of the game. However, just under a minute later, the Pirates picked up the momentum and were able to break past Svedberg to cut the deficit to two goals at 3:15. Play went back and forth throughout the remainder of the frame, solid play from the goaltenders kept the score locked a 3-1 going into the final frame.

The Bruins were on fire in the third period and came out hard right in the opening minutes. Florek added his second of the game and seventh of the season at 4:31 to give the Bruins a 4-1 lead. And they didn't stop there. The Bruins scored three more unanswered goals. Cunningham scored his second of the game at 7:53 to give the Bruins a 5-1 lead. Five minutes later Caron tallied his tenth goal of the season when Hanson caused a turnover along the half board and Caron undressed the Pirates defense before going in on Lee to put the Bruins up 6-1. Cunningham sealed the win and his hat trick at 18:56 when he ripped a shot past a lost looking Lee. The Bruins went on to win 7-1 and give them a four point cushion on first place in the Atlantic.