Game No. 53 out of 76 will be a timely tone-setter for the AHL homestretch as the P-Bruins, first in the Atlantic Division, visit the second-place Portland Pirates on Tuesday. It will be one of three more meetings between Providence and Portland, with another one slated for this Sunday at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Each club has reaped 31 wins out of their first 52 outings. The Bruins hold a two-point upper hand, 66-64, with a couple of extra-regulation ties.
The rest of the Atlantic is presently out of the Calder Cup playoff picture. The Worcester Sharks are next in line with 56 points to their credit, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference. Manchester and St. John’s follow with 54 and 49 points, respectively.
Providence, Portland and Worcester each have two games in hand on the Monarchs and three on the IceCaps, meaning the Sharks are the only team with a realistic chance of morphing this divisional derby into a three-party contest.
The P-Bruins, who are unbeaten in their last six outings (5-0-1) and 12-1-1 in their last 14, can create critical distance by continuing to stoke their presently peerless hot streak.
Perhaps appropriately enough, the Pirates are responsible for the Bruins’ only regulation loss of late, having pasted them, 5-2, at The Dunk on Feb. 11.
Odds are, going into that game, Portland had not forgotten its previous meeting with Providence, a mortifying 6-1 beatdown on Jan. 25. Bruce Cassidy’s pupils can now double their lead in the standings by taking their turn with a similar payback principle.
Between the two bouts with the Pirates over the coming week, the P-Bruins will have two other regional rivalry matchups with not-so-negligible implications.
The aforementioned Sharks are venturing down to The Dunk this Friday for the first of three remaining meetings in a 12-game season series. After a 1-3-2 start to that series, the Bruins have won their last three against Worcester and, with another win, could be as much as 14 points ahead by March.
Saturday’s slate will feature a pair of division leaders with the host Springfield Falcons clutching a comparatively easy stranglehold on the rest of the Northeast Division.
That will be one of five more Providence-Springfield games, all of which could hold sway over second place in the conference, if not first.
Svedberg Sizzles, Bartkowski Booms
With a 21-save shutout of the Norfolk Admirals this past Friday, Providence goaltender Niklas Svedberg extended his personal winning streak to 10 games. In addition, he is undefeated in his last 14 outings at 13-0-1.
At 26-15-1, only Rochester’s David Leggio has more wins and no AHL netminder has a better record on the year than Svedberg’s 25-6-2.
All three of the P-Bruins goals that supported Svedberg’s cause were aided by third-year defenseman Matt Bartkowski. With the playmaker hat trick and another helper in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout falter, Bartkowski is riding a six-game production streak and is guaranteed to finish February with at lead 10 points in as many outings.
Bartkowski, who saw action in six games for Boston as a rookie and three in 2011-12, is on an easy pace for AHL career highs in every key column.
His scoring log is at 3-17-20 through 46 appearances after he tallied five goals and 23 points in 2010-11 and 19 assists last season. His even rating, a product of a cumulative plus-two while visiting Norfolk, matches his 50-game finish in 2011-12.
Stingrays Streak Snapped
The South Carolina Stingrays, the Bruins’ Double-A partner, tripped up in regulation for the first time in three weeks Sunday when they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Greenville Road Warriors. The Rays had previously gone on a 7-0-1 tear to pole-vault themselves into playoff contention.
South Carolina is seventh in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference with 13 games remaining in the regular season. The rest of the homestretch begins with a six-game homestand, starting Tuesday night against the Gwinnett Gladiators.