Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Comeback Of The Year

There haven't been many, so when a team rallies from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series, it's a pretty big deal. When a team looks like it's dead in the water, it's an even bigger deal. The Providence Bruins had won the first three games of their second-round series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins by outscoring the Penguins 14-9, and it seemed all hope was lost for the Baby Penguins. The Bruins were making preparations for travel to and accomodations in Syracuse, New York.

That is, until this guy was sent to the blue ice. Brad Thiessen was given the start in Game Two after Jeff Zatkoff struggled in Game One, and things began to change in the Penguins. Backstopped by one of the best young goalies in the game, the Penguins looked more confident in their defensive play. They dropped Games Two and Three, but it was Thiessen who was the story from Game Four on. Thiessen allowed two goals over the final four games of the series, capping off a historical comeback by the Penguins as they eliminatd the Bruins.

For just the third time in the AHL's 77-year history, a team has rallied back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series. The Penguins also became just the 18th team to rally back after being down 3-1 in series, and were the eighth team in AHL history to win Games Six and Seven on the road. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton joined the 1960 Rochester Americans - who beat Cleveland - and the 1989 Adirondack Red Wings - who beat Hershey - as the only teams in AHL history to overcome the 3-0 series deficit.

If there is one guy who might eb feeling this pain more than anyone, it's Trent Whitfield. Whitfield was also a member of the 2010 Boston Bruins who, as you may recall, were up 3-0 and staring down a berth in the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was the upstart Philadelphia Flyers who shocked everyone by downing the Bruins in four straight games instead, sending Trent Whitfield and the Bruins home as only the third team in NHL history to lose after being up 3-0 in series.
If you're keeping score at home, that's two series in which Trent Whitfield has been part of the Bruins organization that has become the third team in that league's history to lose after leading the series 3-0. I'm not saying that Trent Whitfield is a jinx or anything, but the odds of that happening twice to a player in his professional career are pretty astronomical.

Let's give credit where credit is due as well. The Penguins buckled down and really played well in front of Brad Thiessen. They outscored the Bruins 14-2 in the final four games, using timely special teams goals and solid checking to help their own cause. They outhustled the AHL's best regular-season team in winning races to loose pucks, they capitalized on scoring chances, and they suffocated the Bruins in their defensive zone. In short, the Penguins played as well as the scores indicated in those final four games.

It's not like the Bruins didn't have chances, though. Game Six was led by the Bruins before the Penguins tied the game midway through the second period. Despite Providence firing 47 shots at Thiessen, the Penguins prevailed on their 18th shot of the game in overtime when Trevor Smith scored. If you're going to throw 46 pucks at a goaltender, you'd expect to score more than one goal, but Thiessen was equal to the task on all but one of those shots. In that case, you have to dig deeper and find a way to win. Providence simply could not.

With the victory, the WBS Penguins advance to the Eastern Conference Final where they will play the Syracuse Crunch. Syracuse, as you may recall, was the Norfolk Admirals team last season who won the Calder Cup before Tampa Bay made the decision to move their AHL affiliate to northern New York. Needless to say, the Crunch have been there before, so don't expect them to roll over for the Penguins either.

The first game of the 2013 Calder Cup Eastern Conference Final goes Saturday, May 25 in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Expect a great game with rowdy fans on Saturday after the Penguins' stunning comeback. Syracuse was 5-3 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season, proving that this series may be tougher than Syracuse's previous series where they swept both the Portland Pirates and the Springfield Falcons out of the playoffs. Trevor Smith of the Penguins was a member of the Norfolk Admirals last season, so he may be able to provide some insight into defeating the Crunch. All in all, though, this looks like it's going to be a great series of hockey!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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