The Providence Bruins host the Hershey Bears this afternoon at the Dunkin' Donuts Center for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals series. The Bears lead the best-of-seven set 3-1 after back-to-back come-from-behind wins in Rhode Island this weekend.
The clubs return to action today after Hershey battled back from a 2-0 second period deficit last night to prevail 3-2 in overtime. Hershey's Graham Mink netted the winning goal for the second straight game. As a result, Providence faces elimination for the first time this postseason, an area the P-Bruins have demonstrated success with an all-time 19-13 mark. Though Providence has never come all the way back to win a series it has trailed 3-1 in five opportunities, the club is 3-2 in those Game 5's. The P-Bruins last faced a 3-1 obstacle in the 2006 Division Semifinals against the Portland Pirates, rallying from down 3-0 in the series to win two games before falling in Game 6. On the other side, Hershey is one win away from advancing to the Calder Cup Finals for the third time in the last four years.
Providence's Jeff Penner (4g, 2a) and Hershey's Alexander Giroux (3g, 3a) lead all players in the series with six points apiece. Penner, who finished the regular season with 10 goals, holds the high in goals while the Bears' Keith Aucoin is tops in assists with four. In net, P-Bruin Tuukka Rask is 1-3 with a 3.07 goals-against-average to Michal Neuvirth'
s 3-1 mark and 2.37 GAA for the Bears. On special teams, Providence is 7-for-13 (53.8%) on the power play and 16-of-19 (84.2%) on the penalty kill while Hershey is 3-for-19 (15.8%) with the extra skater and 6-of-13 (46.2%) when short-handed. In the postseason overall, Rask is 9-6 with a 2.09 GAA and .933 save percentage, compared to Neuvirth's 11-4 mark, three shutouts, 2.03 GAA and .929 save percent. The P-Bruins are led offensively by Martin St. Pierre's 16 points and 11 assists, a high shared by Vladimir Sobotka. Rookies Penner and Brad Marchand each pace the team with six goals. Giroux shows highs of eight goals and 18 points for the Bears and Aucoin has a club-best 13 helpers. Giroux is riding a six-game point-streak, totaling nine points (4g, 5a). Turning to special teams, Providence ranks second in the playoffs with a 28.3% conversion on the power play and fourth on the penalty kill at 86.4%. The P-Bruins' man-advantage is 17-for-48 since starting the postseason 0-for-12, a success-rate of 35.4%. Hershey is fifth on the power play at 19.8% but 12th when short-handed at 78.3%. The Bears began the playoffs 22-of-22 on the penalty kill and are just 32-of-47 (68.1%) since.
The winner of this series moves on to the Calder Cup Finals and will play the Western Conference winner, either the Manitoba Moose or Houston Aeros. The Moose lead the Aeros 3-2 with Game 6 of their series tonight in Winnipeg. The P-Bruins have advanced to the final round once in their 17 seasons, winning the Calder Cup in 1999. The Bears are in their 71st season in the AHL, having appeared in 20 Calder Cup Finals with nine titles. This series marks the first-ever meeting between the P-Bruins and Bears in postseason play.
If necessary, the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs continue with Game 6 and Game 7 at Hershey's Giant Center on Wednesday and Thursday, 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 (Bears Lead Series3-1)
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.
Game 3 (6-4 Hershey in RI): The P-Bruins squandered leads of 3-0 and 4-2, allowing four third period goals to the Bears in the loss. Providence held a 3-0 advantage early in the second period and held that lead until Hershey tied the game at four 6:52 into the third. The Bears scored twice more in the final 6:02 of regulation for the victory. Seven P-Bruins recorded points, led by Jeff Penner's two goals and assist, all on the power play. Martin St. Pierre added two assists. Zach Hamill and Peter Schaefer had the additional Providence goals. Hershey received points from 12 players, paced by Alexander Giroux's two goals. Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque, Bryan Helmer and Graham Mink all found the back of the net as well. Giroux (2g), Helmer (g, a), Keith Aucoin (2a) and Patrick McNeill (2a) contributed multi-point games. Michal Neuvirth earned the win with 24 saves and Tuukka Rask took the loss with 26 blocked shots. Each team had four power play opportunities, the P-Bruins scoring three goals to the Bears' one.
Game 4 (3-2 Hershey in OT in RI): The P-Bruins held a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes for the second straight game but could not hang on as the Bears scored once in the second, tied the contest with 6:48 remaining in regulation and won the game with 4:50 left in overtime. Peter Schaefer and Jeff Penner (PP) scored for Providence while Hershey received its goals from Bryan Helmer (PP), Keith Aucoin and Graham Mink, the latter netting the winner. Aucoin (g, a), Mink (g, a) and Alexander Giroux (2a) all registered multiple-point games. Tuukka Rask suffered the loss despite 40 saves and Michal Neuvirth made 25 stops for the win as each goalie played roughly 75 minutes. Both teams went 1-for-3 on the power play.