ATLANTIC DIVISION FINALS BEGIN TONIGHT AT THE DUNK
The Providence Bruins host the Worcester Sharks this evening at the Dunkin' Donuts Center for Game 1 of the Atlantic Division Finals series.
The best-of-seven set marks the first ever playoff meeting between these Route 146 rivals, though the cities of Providence and Worcester did battle in postseason play three times when the old IceCats made their home in Massachusetts. The P-Bruins ousted the IceCats from the AHL playoffs in five games in 1997, three games to one in 1999 and in seven games in 2001, with an overall record of 10-6, including two overtime triumphs.
Providence is in the playoffs for the 15th time in 17 seasons with an all-time 15-13 series record and one Calder Cup championship in 1999.
The P-Bruins outlasted the Portland Pirates in five games in the Atlantic Division Semifinals to advance to the Division Finals for the third straight season. The series victory also marked the first for Providence against Portland since 1995, losing three times since before last Friday's clincher to move on. The Sharks, meanwhile, won their first all-time playoff series in their second try after previously falling in six games in the opening round two years ago versus the Manchester Monarchs. With Saturday's win to advance past the division champion Hartford Wolf Pack, Worcester won its fourth straight game after dropping the first two. In this series, the P-Bruins will try to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2005 while the Sharks set their sights on doing something the IceCats could never accomplish in nine tries - moving beyond the second round.
Complete series recaps from this year's opening round can be found below.
In the three years that the P-Bruins and Sharks have been facing off, Providence has put together a 22-8-2 regular season record, including a 7-2-1-0 mark in 2008-09 with four of those wins coming at The Dunk. Former P-Bruin Matt Lashoff, now Tampa Bay Lightning property, was the top offensive contributor with 11 points in seven games this season. Providence rookie standout Mikko Lehtonen ranked next with 10 points in nine outings, including seven of his team-high 28 goals. Eddie Shore Award winner Johnny Boychuk led all active players with six assists, also chipping in a pair of goals and a plus-12 rating in nine contests. On the Worcester side, Derek Joslin piled up seven points (4g, 3a). Jamie McGinn, still up with San Jose despite the the parent Sharks' elimination to the Anaheim Ducks last night, scored six goals in eight games against Providence. In net, Tuukka Rask went 6-1 with a 2.24 goals-against-average and .934 save percentage in seven starts versus Worcester while counterpart Thomas Greiss posted a 3-4-1 record with a 2.16 GAA and .904 save percentage. Greiss has been a mainstay in net for the Sharks, having started the club's last 22 games overall, going 14-8.
On special teams, Providence finished the regular season ranked 22nd on the penalty kill (81.8%) but the team's PK has been near perfect in the playoffs with 19-of-20 (95%) successful kills, good for second. The P-Bruins rank ninth of 16 teams on the power play at 14.3%, going 3-for-21 through the first six games. Worcester, meanwhile, sits 12th on the man-advantage at 11.1% (4-for-36) and seventh on the penalty kill at 87.5% (27-for-31).
The 2008-09 Calder Cup Playoffs continue with Game 2 of the Atlantic Division Finals one week from tomorrow on Wednesday, May 6 at the DCU Center at 7:05 p.m. Providence is next home in Rhode Island for Game 3 on Friday, May 8 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.
Atlantic Division Semifinals Series Notes (Providence Defeated Portland 4-1 in Five Games)
Providence lost Game 1 of the best-of-seven set before reeling off four straight wins to close the series and eliminate Portland from the playoffs for the first time since 1995. The P-Bruins improved to 2-4 all-time in playoff series against the Pirates, snapping a string of three consecutive series losses dating back to 2004. Providence's success began in net, where Tuukka Rask was named a top star in all five games and finished the series with a 1.20 goals-against-average and .959 save percentage after allowing only one goal in each of the P-Bruins' four wins. Providence was led offensively by forwards Vladimir Sobotka (2g, 3a) and Martin St. Pierre (g, 4a). Sobotka, Johnny Boychuk and Brad Marchand each scored two goals as all but four of Providence's 18 position players recorded points in the series. Sobotka, Marchand and Andrew Bodnarchuk led all players with plus-three ratings each. The P-Bruins' defense was spectacular, allowing only seven goals in the series - including one empty net goal - and limiting Tim Kennedy, Nathan Gerbe, Mathieu Darche and Colton Fretter to a total of just two assists. Kennedy and Fretter each registered one helper while AHL Rookie of the Year Gerbe and 31-goal scorer Darche were kept off the board. In net for Portland, Jhonas Enroth went 1-4 despite a 2.27 GAA and .940 save percentage. Providence out-scored Portland 11-7 in the series and out-shot the Pirates 187-149. On special teams, the P-Bruins' penalty kill was spectacular at 19-for-20 (95%) while the power play converted 3-of-21 chances (14.3%), including two goals from Boychuk.
Atlantic Division Semifinals Series Notes (Worcester Defeated Hartford 4-2 in Six Games)
Worcester dropped the first two games of its series before winning four straight to oust the Atlantic's top-seeded Wolf Pack and become only the 20th team in AHL history to win a series after trailing two games to none. The series win was the first ever for the third-year Sharks in only their second try after previously qualiftying for the postseason in 2007 and falling in six games to Manchester. Worcester's offense was dynamic in the opening round, pacing the Eastern Conference with 20 goals, an average of 3.3 per game. All the more impressive, the Sharks out-scored the Wolf Pack 17-6 in the final four games of the series, all Worcester wins. Riley Armstrong paced the Sharks with eight points, all assists, and he registered points in the last five games. Ryan Vesce led the team with three goals. After going scoreless in the first three games of the series, Dan DaSilva collected six points (2g, 4a) in the final three contests. Andrew Desjardins, Brendan Buckley and Patrick Traverse had series-best plus-five ratings. Between the pipes, Thomas Greiss posted a 4-2 record with one shutout, a 1.90 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage. The Game 4 shutout was Greiss' first career playoff blanking. On the other side, rookie Matt Zaba went 2-4 with one shutout, a 3.17 GAA and a .908 save percentage for Hartford. The Wolf Pack offense received three goals from each Dane Byers and Dale Weise and five points from Bobby Sanguinetti (g, 4a) but the team's defense could not do the job. Overall, Worcester out-scored Hartford 20-13 and out-shot the Wolf Pack 219-164. On special teams, the Sharks were awarded 36 power plays, scoring four times (11.1%), while the penalty kill was 27-for-31 (87.1%).