February 24, 2009
by Thomas Chace Jr.
The Providence Bruins garnered all six points available to them last weekend against Atlantic Division foes, Manchester, Worcester, and Springfield. Those points could prove to be huge as the team hopes to carry that momentum on a very difficult road trip through the East and North Divisions. The Bruins have a five game winning streak on the road, but will face some stiff competition over the next two weeks. The P-Bruins will be facing division leaders in Hershey and Manitoba (twice) as well as Philadelphia, Norfolk, Toronto, and Rochester. Getting points on this trip should be very tough to come by.
Providence has been successful of late despite the absence of a consistent offensive attack due to the many call ups by the parent Boston Bruins. Their leading scorer is once again defenseman Johnny Boychuck. His game winning goal against Springfield on Sunday with 3:16 left capped a three goal weekend for the Edmonton, Alberta native. Head Coach Rob Murray claims, “Boychuck has been bringing it all year. I’m sure he has one of the hardest shots if not the hardest shot in the American Hockey League.” Boychuck leads all AHL defensemen in points, goals and shots; he leads Providence in power play points with 30. The play of rookies Brad Marchand and Mikko Lehtonen has eased the loss of Vladimir Sobotka, Byron Bitz, Petteri Nokelainen, and Martins Karsums to the big club in Boston. Wacey Rabbit has reached a career high in goals with ten, and veterans Jeremy Reich and Peter Schaefer have combined for 50 points.
The goaltending has been consistent with the bulk of the work continuing to be borne by Tuukka Rask. Rask has played the fourth most minutes in the AHL, has the second most wins with 24, and has a 5-1 record in shootouts. In fact, on February 14th against Portland, Rask was brought into the game just for the shootout. Kevin Nastiuk had started for Providence and played through the overtime in a 5-5 tie with division rival Portland, only to be replaced by Rask who stopped four of five breakaways to give Providence a 6-5 victory. Asked why he replaced Nastiuk with Rask in the shootout, Murray stated simply, “we felt Tuukka gave us a better chance in the shootout.” Simple, eh?
Hershey, who leads the East Division, will be looking for payback after getting smoked in Providence 7-2 back on January 2nd. Manitoba who boasts the best record in the AHL has played Providence twice already, losing in a shootout and dominating them in a 4-0 victory nine days later. There were six fights in the two games, and with back to back games scheduled in Manitoba, the atmosphere is sure to be playoff like. The Bruins are taking a slim four point lead on their last long road trip of the season, and although it may not determine how their season will finish, it will surely be used to measure their playoff mettle.