The Providence Bruins host the Hershey Bears this evening at the Dunkin' Donuts Center for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals series. The best-of-seven set is tied at one after the teams split a pair of games at the Giant Center last weekend. Each game was decided by one goal and great goaltending in the latter moments proved to be the difference.
Goalies Tuukka Rask (2.01 GAA, .944 SV%) and Michal Neuvirth (2.02 GAA, .926 SV%) have shown remarkably similar numbers through the first two games of the series with each posting a 1-1 record. Offensively, Hershey's Oskar Osala leads all scorers with two goals and three points, followed by five players with two points apiece. On special teams, the P-Bruins are 3-for-6 (50%) on the power play and 11-of-12 (91.7%) on the penalty while the Bears are 1-for-12 (8.3%) with the extra attacker and 3-of-6 (50%) when short-handed.
Overall in the postseason, Rask is 9-4 with a 1.76 GAA and .943 save percentage for Providence, compared to Neuvirth's 9-4 mark, three shutouts, 1.92 GAA and .934 save percent for Hershey. Each team has three players in double-digits in scoring, the P-Bruins led by Martin St. Pierre (5g, 9a), Brad Marchand (6g, 7a) and Vladimir Sobotka (2g, 9a), and the Bears paced by American Hockey League Most Valuable Player Alexander Giroux (6g, 8a), Chris Bourque (2g, 11a) and former P-Bruin Keith Aucoin (2g, 10a). Meanwhile, Providence is converting on 24.5% of its power plays, good for second, and 88.5% of its short-handed efforts, ranking fourth. On the other side, Hershey has been successful on 19% of its extra-man opportunities, fifth in the AHL, but the club sits ninth on the penalty kill at 82.3%.
The first team to win three more games in this series moves on to the Calder Cup Finals and will play the Western Conference representative, either the Manitoba Moose or Houston Aeros. The Moose lead the Aeros 3-1 with Game 5 of their series tonight in Texas. The P-Bruins have advanced to the final round once in their 17 seasons, winning the Calder Cup in 1999. The storied Bears are in their 71st season in the AHL, having appeared in 20 Calder Cup Finals with nine championships. Most recently, Hershey won the 2006 Calder Cup and advanced to the 2007 Finals. This series marks the first-ever meeting between the P-Bruins and Bears in postseason play.
The 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs continue with Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday night in Rhode Island at 7:05 p.m. Game 5 of the series is scheduled for Monday afternoon at 4:05 p.m., also at The Dunk. If necessary, Game 6 and Game 7 will be played in Hershey on Wednesday and Thursday of next week, each at 7 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.
Eastern Conference Finals Series Game by Game Notes (Series Tied 1-1)
Game 1 (3-2 Providence in PA): The P-Bruins got off to a great start with two first period power play goals, scored by Jeff Penner and Jordan Knackstedt, putting the Bears in an early hole. Second period even-strength goals by Oskar Osala twice pulled Hershey within a goal but Matt Marquardt's strike sandwiched between the Osala goals proved to be the difference as Providence went on to take the first game of the series. Marquardt's linemates, Zach Hamill and Peter Schaefer, each tallied two assists for multiple-point outings. Tuukka Rask earned the win with 30 saves while Michal Neuvirth suffered the loss with 25 blocked shots. The P-Bruins went 2-for-4 on the power play while the Bears failed to score on five man-advantage opportunities.
Game 2 (2-1 Hershey in PA): The Bears controlled the tempo, out-shooting the P-Bruins 39-26 for the game and 21-10 in the second period. Still, the game remained scoreless going into the final stanza. Hershey then received two goals in the first roughly six minutes of the third, the first by Andrew Joudrey and the second on the power play from Alexander Giroux. Brad Marchand brought Providence within a goal at 19:24 of the third period but it wasn't enough as Hershey evened the series. Michal Neuvirth made 25 stops for the victory and Tuukka Rask took the loss despite 37 saves. Each team scored once on the power play, the P-Bruins in two chances and the Bears in seven opportunities.