Thursday, April 16, 2009

Portland Stymies Providence

Portland Goes Up 1-0 In Series
April 16, 2009
by T. Chace Jr.

Home ice advantage just went down the runway. It's an old rivalry with a twist this year. Providence has usually gotten the early jump on their Maine rivals in season's past, but not this year. These two teams have played four times in the Calder Cup playoffs, Portland has eliminated Providence in both 2004, 2006 and most recently in last years 2008 series, despite spotting them a two game series lead. Providence tends to gain series leads only to have Portland come back and win series.

Last night Portland came away with a 3-0 victory on Providence's home ice at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Portland weathered an early blitz by Providence, in which the Bruins hit a post and couldn't capitalize on several other opportunities. A Providence goal early in the period might have made for a different outcome. Providence head coach Rob Murray stated as such "I thought with a little bit of luck early on, the game would have been a different scenario. If we capitalized on those early chances, maybe it's a different outcome." Portland's Marek Zagrapan tipped one home for Portland at the 4:23 mark to get the series first goal and a 1-0 lead for the Pirates. A bizarre, unexpected fight occured about a minute later between Providence's Ned Lukacevic and Portland's Kyle Rank. Bizarre and unexpected because Lukacevic had only six penalty minutes all season while Rank totalled a whopping sixteen. It was over as fast as it started and really had no influence on the game. The biggest hit of the period was issued by Bruin rookie Brad Marchand after he came out of the penalty box he clocked an unsuspecting Pirate. Providence outshot Portland 15-11 and was also denied on two power play opportunites in the period.

The second period was a lesson in defensive positional play for Portland, as they limited the Bruins to six shots and little if any sustained offensive pressure. Murray said "we didn't generate much speed through the neutral zone all night, we were almost standing around in the neutral zone. Rushing up ice is a big part of our game and it got worse as the game went on." Providence also failed to capitalize on a hooking call on the Pirate's Paul Baier late in the period. Another huge hit occurred in the second period when Bruin veteran Peter Schaefer blasted a Pirate in the Portland end. Tuukka Rask made several big saves to keep the game at 1-0 through two periods.

The third period was much like the second as Portland trapped and clogged any breakouts for the Bruins. Felix Schultz scored on a fluke goal that Bruin defenseman Johnny Boychuk banked into his own net off his defensive partner Jeff Penner. Portland's Zagrapan netted his second goal of the game later on an empty net goal with :58 left to win Game 1 by the score of 3-0.

Coach Murray did not expect the series to be a four game series and now the Bruins need to win on the road to stay alive. Murray said "nowhere in my mind did I think it's going to be a four game sweep by either team. We're gonna have to win a game on the road here, and that's the bottom line. Throughout the playoffs you're going to have to win road games." So maybe this Providence team is better suited to battle back as opposed to holding off the Pirates. Friday's game will be interesting. How will Providence react to being frustrated in their own building in Game 1. An early Providence goal could turn the series around again.

* Portland goalie Jhonas Enroth was 1st Star of the Game
* Marek Zagrapan - 2nd Star
* Tuukka Rask - 3rd Star
* I sat next to AHL President David Andrews in the press box who stated " this popcorn in Providence is the saltiest in the league." - I agreed

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