An inevitable part of the deal in a healthy rivalry is having turns getting a perpetual short end. Not that that excuses the Providence Bruins against the Worcester Sharks in the 2012-13 season series any more than it would any other party in any other matchup.
There is some primarily trivial fascination to reap in the notion that the P-Bruins’ worst luck against a team hailing from Worcester seems to come along every eight years. That cycle just so happens to have lapped once more and, with a 1-3-2 start for Providence, this series is evoking memories of 1996-97 and 2004-05.
At the same time, there is a worthwhile lesson for Bruce Cassidy’s pupils to claim from the conclusion of those two long-ago seasons. One culminated in a redemptive playoff upset while the other saw Worcester win the first four meetings and only let the Bruins claim 10 points in 10 total meetings and watch their rivals go to the subsequent playoffs without them.
Translation: Providence―whose only victory in six bouts with the Sharks has come in a shootout after never leading in regulation and who has blown seven leads in various losing efforts―ought to have its topmost New Year’s resolution set in Sharpie ink.
If the younger stages of the 2012-13 season series are going to be a repeat of eight years prior and eight additional years prior, then the Bruins must ensure that the second half does the same. Failure to learn from repeat blunders benefiting their Atlantic Division adversary could be a detrimental X-factor in their push to end a four-year Calder Cup playoff drought.
The Sharks, who are 5-0-1 in this season series, hold a one-point lead in the standings and are second in the division and fifth in the conference. While Providence presently has a game in hand, it is third in the Atlantic and seventh in the Eastern Conference.
It would have been a decidedly different story after Saturday’s meeting had the Bruins merely stayed on guard in the final minutes before each intermission. A 1-0 Providence lead evaporated with Sebastien Stalberg’s goal at 19:41 of the opening frame and Brandon Reid pulled the Sharks even again at 2-2 with 24 seconds to spare in the second period.
Brandon Mashinter inserted the decider with 3:37 left in regulation, thus robbing the P-Bruins of a point or, better yet, an even 2-2-2 record at the halfway mark of the 12-game season series.
All of that transpired a mere eight nights after Providence had similarly deferred to Worcester in the dying moments of regulation, allowing the decider in a 5-4 loss at 19:49 of the third period.
In addition, Providence will now have taken more than six meetings to reap two wins out of a Worcester team for only the third time in the IceCats’ and Sharks’ 18 combined campaigns.
The 1996-97 edition of the Spoked-P franchise split its first two bouts with the Worcester IceCats before losing six straight and finishing 2-8-0 in the regular season. The 2004-05 P-Bruins were 1-3-2 against Worcester at this point in the year, identical to this season.
By the end of 2004-05, however, Providence had finished 4-4-2 against the Cats and had five more points to speak of in the final standings. That gave the Bruins the last postseason spot in the Atlantic Division―which they used to reach the Eastern Conference Finals―while Worcester had the most points among all non-playoff teams.
The matchup had a greater epic element eight years beforehand. After that mortifying 2-8-0 run, the P-Bruins met the first-place IceCats in a best-of-five first round series to commence the 1997 Calder Cup playoffs.
Through the first two games of that bout, the only surprise was that the black and gold spilled some fight onto the scoresheet in back-to-back 5-4 losses. It was not unlike the vibe a future edition of the parent club in Boston would give when, in 2007-08, they lost all eight regular-season meetings to Montreal and then kept their first two playoff games irreproachably close.
But the P-Bruins perked up when they reached the brink, taking Game 3 on the road, 4-2, followed by a 5-4 overtime triumph at home before completing the comeback, 3-2, in Worcester. Incidentally, that constituted the first of four unanswered playoff triumphs for Providence over the IceCats or Sharks, the others occurring in 1999, 2001 and 2009.
Back in the present, and in a tightly squeezed bottom half of the playoff bracket, the Bruins are again having Worcester-induced fits in the wake of their third regulation loss and fifth one-goal shortcoming with the Sharks.
Or if they had stymied the Sharks’ power play a little better in any of the first five meetings rather than authorized a cumulative eight conversions on 27 chances.
Or if they had kept all or half of an initial two-goal lead on Nov. 11 or either of the two leads they held on Dec. 2, Dec. 21 or this past Saturday.
With another six meetings still to come, there is ample time for Providence to snap out of these woeful Worcester patterns. History hints that doing so could yield a rewarding spring and the present shape of the AHL Atlantic landscape could make that possible once more, but more of the same will only spawn uncertainty.