On Wednesday night, the Providence Bruins hosted the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence for game 7. It was the final game to determine that match-ups for the Conference Finals in the AHL. After a win on Tuesday night, the Grand Rapids Griffins were set to face off against the Oklahoma City Barons in the Western Conference Finals. The Syracuse Crunch, after sweeping the Springfield Falcons in the second round, were waiting to see if they would meet Providence or Wilkes-Barre in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After taking a 3-0 series lead, the Providence Bruins let the Penguins come back to tie it up 3-3 and force a game 7. This was the opposite of the first round where the Bruins had battled back to tie the series and go on to win. The Bruins started off the game looking like they were in control of a chippy game. After the first frame, they led shots 11-5. Despite that, neither team had been able to find the back of the net and they went into the first intermission scoreless.
When the teams came out for the second, it seemed that the Penguins kicked it into another gear, remembering that whoever won advanced to the Conference Finals. Wilkes-Barre did not waste any time and capitalized on the first penalty of the second period when Chris Bourque went off for slashing. Penguins forward Chad Kolarik wrapped around the net and shot the puck, which seemed to trickle by Niklas Svedberg. The first goal of the game came at 4:44, while on the power play, and the assists went to Brian Dumoulin and Trevor Smith. That set the tone for the rest of the period, where the Penguins led the shots.
The next goal of the period did not come until the 13:04 mark. Wilkes-Barre captain, Joey Mormina, took a slapshot from the blue line that Warren Peters tipped in. Adam Payerl had the other assist. After the second Penguins goal, the Bruins rang a shot off the post for the second time of the game. But it would be the Penguins that scored next. Just about two minutes later, Payerl added a goal of his own. He took a hard shot from between the face-off circles and easily beat Svedberg with an assist to Chris Collins. After another two minutes, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton added yet another goal. Zach Sill took a shot from the glove side and went over Svedberg’s left shoulder.
The teams went to the second intermission with the Penguins leading the Bruins 4-0 in the crucial 7th game of the series. When the teams came back out for the final period of the series, it was clear that Providence had lost all of their steams. They made a change of the goalies, taking Svedberg out and putting Michael Hutchinson in net. But it did not seem to make the difference. It was a last ditch desperate effort.
Although the Bruins outshot the Penguins 16-5 in the third, it would not be enough. With about five minutes to go, Wilkes-Barre scored the final goal of the game. Trevor Smith added a goal assisted by Kolarik and Derek Nesbitt. Providence unfortunately failed to notch a goal in the final game of the series. Wilkes-Barre Scranton won the final four straight games to complete a nearly unprecedented comeback.
After coming back from being down 3-0 in the series, the Penguins became just the 3rd team in the 77 year history of the AHL to advance after being down like that. It was unquestionably a full team effort as they scored 14 goals in those four wins and only allowed 2 goals, with two games ending in a Providence shutout. Making the goalie change to Brad Thiessen also unquestionably helped his team. After taking over, he recorded a goals against of .70 and a save percentage of .978.
Next, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins will meet the Syracuse Crunch in the Eastern Conference finals. Despite the hot streak the Penguins are currently riding, it will be a hard fought series. This is the first season that Tampa Bay has had their prospects in Syracuse and the team has not lost yet this post season. Last season, Tampa’s prospects won the Calder Cup in Norfolk and won 10 straight to end last season on their quest for the Cup.