The Providence Bruins let the Pack and the entire AHL know tonight that, even though they might have dropped off the record-setting pace at which they played the first half of the season, they’re not going to relinquish their lead over the rest of the league easily.
The last time these two teams met, the Pack ran up a 7-1 score, thanks primarily to 7 minutes of non-coincidental penalties taken by Bruins defenseman Sean Curry, during which the Pack potted 5 power play goals. But they had to hold on for dear life as Providence charged back to draw within 2 by the end of the game. The Bruins picked up where they left off tonight, keeping the Pack penned in their own zone for long stretches of time and holding a clear advantage in play for the majority of the game.
The Pack got off to a good enough start, getting an early edge in scoring chances, but an unfortunate deflection off a Pack player in front on a shot from Matt Hunwick gave the Bruins the 1-0 lead near the halfway point of the first period on only their second shot. Three shots and a little over four minutes later, Nate Thompson increased the lead to two when he used a Pack defenseman as a screen and beat Wiikman through the five hole. The Bruins really started rolling after that, but with about three and a half minutes to play in the period, Wiikman made what looked like it might have been a game-saving stop on a shorthanded 3-on-1. The save gave the Pack some life and they were able to draw a penalty with just under two minutes remaining in the period. Parenteau converted with just over half a minute remaining, cutting the Bruins lead in half when a soft snap shot he floated towards the goal deflected off first a Bruin’s stick and then off Curry’s leg and past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. The Pack enjoyed an 11-7 advantage in shots, but that would be as close as they’d get in either goals or shots the rest o the way.
The Pack started the 2nd with some residual momentum, drawing a quick penalty and forcing Rask to make 4 early saves. But the Bruins began to take control of the game after the kill, and at 6:06 Hunwick fired a shot from the left point through traffic and Chris Collins got a stick on it, deflecting it past Wiikman, who got a piece of it but couldn’t stop it. Halfway through the period Providence’s hard work drew two consecutive penalties, the second of which they converted on when Byron Bitz fired a high shot, short side from the left circle off the post and in. On the next shift Byers, who drew the 7 minutes in penalties off Curry in the previous game, would finally oblige him and drop the gloves in an effort to spark his team, but Curry used his significant advantage in size to get the better of Byers before Byers was able to take him down to the ice. The period would finish with Providence’s 15-5 advantage in shots providing a clear indication of the advantage they had in play.
The Pack came out in the third with the mindset “if you can’t beat them, beat them”, upping their intensity and finishing checks all over the ice. Pack coach Kenny Gernander switched up the lines as well, moving Jessiman up to the first line in place of Parenteau and dropping Parenteau down with Anisimov and Hossa. It seemed to work for a little while, as they were able to exert some bouts of sustained pressure early before Marcel Hossa took a boarding penalty at the 2:30 mark. The Pack would kill that one off and looked to keep the momentum until P.A. Parenteau took a tripping penalty out of frustration at just past the 5 minute mark. The Bruins took advantage on that one, when Greg Hoggan took a cross-crease pass from Aaron Slattengren and put it in the open side of the net before Wiikman could get across. The Bruins would finish off the scoring a minute and 38 seconds later when Martins Karsums fed the puck out to Wacey Rabbit right in front. Wiikman would make the first save, but Pascal Pelltier would get his stick on the rebound and roof it from in close. Wiikman got the mercy pull following the goal, bringing in Chris Holt, who was just called up from Charlotte of the ECHL today.
Things got nastier as the period went on. Early in the period Dane Byers had taken a high hit to the head in open ice which went uncalled. Byers seemed to miss a few shifts, but ultimately returned later in the game. With just under 6 minutes remaining in the game, as Jake Taylor and Wacey Rabbit fought for the puck along the boards, Rabbit stomped not once, but twice with his skate on Taylor’s foot — undetected. As you might expect, Taylor took exception and threw Rabbit down to the ice, getting the only penalty called on the play.
The Pack started the game missing yet another regular to injury — Alex Bourret missed the game with an unspecified injury. He joined Al Montoya (groin), David Liffiton (concussion) and Andrew Hutchinson (groin) on the sidelines. Bruce Graham took Bourret’s spot in the line up, while Tommy Pyatt remained a healthy scratch. ECHL call-up Jared Nightingale played his second game on defense and continued to struggle with the pace of the AHL. The Pack have really missed Hutchinson in the three games he’s been out — not only for his offensive prowess, particularly on the power play, but for his veteran presence and leadership. Tonight they really looked like the young team they are (the visiting Hossa, 26, was the only player on the roster over the age of 25), taking a number of undisciplined frustration penalties and lacking composure in getting caught running around in their own zone.
In the end, the Pack dropped back to 6 points behind the division and league leaders while maintaining their 8 point lead on 3rd place Portland, though Portland and Providence each hold 2 games in hand. Next up is the Pack’s Connecticut neighbors from Bridgeport on Saturday, another team which they’ve had difficulty with this season.
1. Parenteau (23) (Baranka, Pock) 19:29 (PP)
Byers – Moore – Parenteau
Hossa – Anisimov – Jessiman
Dupont – Graham – Korpikoski
Ouellette – Owens
Sauer – Pock
Baranka – Taylor
Potter – Nightingale
Wiikman / Holt
1. Jeff Hoggan
2. Nate Thompson
3. Matt Hunwick
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