P-BRUINS ONE WIN FROM DIVISION FINALS
Providence hosts Portland for game five of Atlantic Division Semi-Finals
The Providence Bruins host the Portland Pirates this evening at the Dunkin' Donuts Center for Game 5 of the Atlantic Division Semifinals series. The P-Bruins lead the best-of-seven set 3-1 after back-to-back road wins in Maine and the club enters tonight's game one win away from advancing to the Atlantic Division Finals for the third straight season.
Providence is also just one victory away from snapping Portland's string of three straight playoff series wins over the P-Bruins. Boding well for the Rhode Island faithful, the P-Bruins have a 6-0 record when playing with a chance to close out a playoff series dating back to a loss in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. Should Providence win tonight, it would be the first time the club won a playoff series at home since the 2005 Division Finals, defeating the Lowell Lock Monsters in Game 5.
Providence and Portland split a pair of games at The Dunk to begin the series before the P-Bruins reclaimed home-ice advantage in commanding fashion by outscoring the Pirates 7-2 in a pair of road wins at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen's club is down 3-1 in a playoff series for the first time since the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals, when Portland rallied to tie its set against the Hershey Bears before falling in overtime in the decisive Game 7.
The P-Bruins pushed their series lead to two with a 2-1 win in Maine last night, marking the third straight game that Providence surrendered only one goal. Goaltender Tuukka Rask is 3-1 for the P-Bruins with a 1.25 goals-against-average and a .958 save percentage, each good for second in the league. Among his most important saves in the series was on a Game 4 penalty shot attempt by Colin Murphy in the first period of last night's game. On the other side, rookie Jhonas Enroth is 1-3 with a Game 1 shutout to his credit, a 2.33 GAA and a .938 save percentage, the latter ranking third in the AHL. Pirates back-up Kellen Briggs has seen limited time in the series with a 1.85 GAA and .950 save percentage after appearing in relief duty in Game 3.
Offensively, Providence is paced by five points apiece from each Martin St. Pierre and Vladimir Sobotka. St. Pierre has tallied a series-high four assists while Sobotka's two goals are matched by teammates Johnny Boychuk and Brad Marchand, as well as Portland's Marek Zagrapan. The Pirates' Zagrapan (2g, a) and Mark Mancari (g, 2a) lead their squad with three points each. Portland's offense scored the fifth most goals in the league during the regular season with an average of 3.1 goals per game. That offense has struggled during the postseason as AHL Rookie of the Year Nathan Gerbe has yet to register a point in the series after 30 goals and 56 points in the regular season. Fellow All-Rookie Team forward Tim Kennedy - 49 assists and 67 points during the regular campaign - has just one assist after helping on Mancari's first goal of the series last night.
On special teams, Providence finished the regular season ranked 22nd on the penalty kill (81.8%) but the team's PK has been flawless in the playoffs with 15 successful kills. The P-Bruins rank tied for 11th of 16 teams on the power play at 11.8%, going 2-for-17 through the first four games. Both goals have been scored by Boychuk. Portland, meanwhile, has killed penalties at an 88.2% rate, tied for fifth in the AHL.
This series marks the fifth all-time playoff match-up between the two clubs. Providence is 1-3 in four prior series versus Portland, last facing off in the 2008 Division Finals, where the P-Bruins grabbed a 2-0 series lead before falling in four straight. Overall, the Pirates have won the last three series against the P-Bruins, including last season, the 2006 Division Semifinals and the 2004 Division Qualifying Series. Providence is in the playoffs for the 15th time in 17 seasons with an all-time 14-13 series record and one Calder Cup championship in 1999. Portland, meanwhile, won a championship in its first year in 1994 and has been to the postseason now 12 times in 16 seasons, sporting a 12-10 series record.
After tonight's game, the 2008-09 Calder Cup Playoffs continue with either Game 1 of the Atlantic Division Finals or Game 6 of the Atlantic Division Semifinals. Should there be a Game 6, it is scheduled for Sunday in Portland at 4 p.m. The potential Game 7 would return to The Dunk on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. To purchase tickets for P-Bruins playoff action or for more information, call (401) 273-5000 or log on to the team website at providencebruins.com. Tickets may be purchased in person by visiting the Dunkin' Donuts Center Box Office or all TicketMaster outlets.