Will Monday night be forward Ryan Spooner’s final minor league game before he becomes a full-time Boston Bruin this coming autumn?
Will the same hold true for goaltender Niklas Svedberg? Will he even scrape the blue paint for Providence as it seeks to stave off elimination from the second round of the 2014 AHL playoffs?
Has fellow goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban made headway toward leapfrogging his Swedish elder en route to a Tuukka Rask apprenticeship?
Those questions can help slake the hockey cravings of Bruins buffs trying to take their minds off of Boston’s season-ending falter last week. For a minimum of five nights, the Baby Bs will have outlasted their parent club in the 2013-14 campaign.
In doing so, they cannot be hurting the development of prime prospects projecting to crack next year’s NHL roster.
Between its first-round triumph over Springfield and its first five second-round tilts with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Providence has logged 10 postseason games. It will try to stretch its itinerary beyond 11 playoff engagements in Monday night’s Game 6.
So far, Spooner co-leads the P-Bruins with seven assists and 11 points. His playoff scoring log is identical to that of professional rookie Seth Griffith.
Spooner has buried four of his team-leading 39 postseason shots on goal, including three at even strength. That signals a mixed bag of progress considering Boston bench boss Claude Julien’s words after Spooner’s last protracted NHL stint.
Save for one appearance on April 10, Spooner has been an AHL mainstay since serving as a regular with the parent club for the bulk of December and January. When the club sent the young forward back to Providence on Jan. 28, Julien offered the following assessment to the assembled press:
He’s been really good for us. But at the same time he still has some things to work on. We can look at his point production, but at the same time he has no goals. So he’s got to learn to start taking more pucks to the net.
Dating back to March 7, Spooner has put 10 pucks in the cage over a combined 27 regular-season and playoff games. His six strikes down the stretch of the AHL’s regular season more than doubled his total from five in 32 appearances to 11 in 49.
So far in the Calder Cup tournament, he has landed at least one shot on net every night. He has pelted the opposing netminder multiple times in nine games and no fewer than three in eight.
Spooner’s biggest goal yet came this past Friday in Game 4 of the ongoing conference semifinal series. The visiting Penguins had 2-1 leads in the series and the game and were fending off the P-Bruins’ six-skater attack.
With six-tenths of a second to spare in regulation, Spooner beat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goaltender Peter Mannino to force overtime. The primal playmaker subsequently collaborated with Craig Cunningham to set up Cory Kane’s clincher, drawing a 2-2 knot in the series.
That momentum-swinging third-period strike had the visual emphasis to match its implications. In his account of the game, Mark Divver of the Providence Journal wrote that Spooner “unloaded from the faceoff circle to Mannino’s left” to slug a one-timer off a dish from Griffith.
That combination of quickness and precision in Spooner’s delivery ought to be a welcome sight for the Bruins brass. Ditto his general uptick in goal production over the past two-plus months.
On the other hand, while he is swelling his shot count, the ratio between pucks on the net and in the net has been erratic. Spooner’s equalizer was his only goal on 17 registered stabs over the past three games. With four tallies on 39 total bids in the playoffs, he is shooting with 10.3 percent success.
Still, he is “taking more pucks to the net” like Julien said. Furthermore, regardless of who finishes the play, he and his linemates have been consistently productive in all situations.
With four assists in his last three ventures, Spooner had a hand in five of the P-Bruins’ nine goals during the series’ three-game stay at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Those include three even-strength tallies and two power-play conversions.
Retaining his hot hand will be an indubitable key to winning one, let alone two elimination contests on enemy property this week. So will stopping the bleeding in the blue paint, which Providence may have already accomplished through its goaltending carousel.
After blanking the Penguins on 20 saves in Game 1, Svedberg let four unanswered goals crack open a 5-1 deficit in Game 2. Although the last three of those were precipitated by Providence penalties, the salvo was enough to let Subban supplant him.
Subban let his only shot-against in 15 minutes and 34 seconds get by to finalize a 6-1 rout. But after Svedberg blinked in a fall-from-ahead, 5-4 overtime barn-burner in Game 3, P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy turned back to the rookie.
Subban, who also won Game 4 of the Springfield series, has since repelled 48 of 53 stabs to exchange 3-2 victories with Mannino.
Goaltending stats can be sketchy in the minors, and the postseason sample size is not much. But each masked man’s last two appearances point to Subban sailing past Svedberg on the stability front.
Depending on how he performs on the road in the face of elimination, Subban might amplify a foundation for a critical offseason.
As late as last week, the logic was that Svedberg, who will turn 25 in September, would be the uncontested successor if current Boston backup and UFA Chad Johnson does not re-sign for 2014-15. After all, Svedberg has logged two solid AHL seasons on top of professional seasoning in Sweden, whereas Subban only turned 20 during this season.
The gap might not be as cavernous as it appeared, particularly as Svedberg is himself a pending free agent. If nothing else, the two budding backstops are trending toward polar opposite final impressions for the 2013-14 season.
That could all be negated by the end of their respective summers and the Bruins’ next training camp. Or perhaps Subban will continue make a case for more than a momentary look at meaningful NHL action next year.
Other prominent Providence players have similar stakes as they seek to pounce on and extend their chance to earn more stripes through authentic extramural engagement. Healthy skaters who saw time in The Show this past year are pending restricted or unrestricted free agents this summer.
Defenseman David Warsofsky, for one, played six regular-season games and scored two points for the parent club.
Forward Nick Johnson dressed for nine NHL contests and tallied 18 goals in only 51 AHL appearances over the winter. Although, he is notably in the middle of a six-game goal-less skid.
Cunningham, he of three straight 20-goal and two straight 25-goal AHL campaigns plus two NHL twirls this year, makes one more noteworthy P-Bruin needing a new contract after 2013-14. Matt Fraser will presumably not return this season in light of NESN.com's Nicholas Goss' report that the rookie is facing potential surgery on a broken foot.
Winger Justin Florek, who played four regular-season games, the entire Detroit series and Game 1 against Montreal, is uncertain for Monday. The aforementioned Divver’s Twitter feed reported Saturday morning that “Florek (lower body) is day-to-day. Cassidy said last night that he won't play in Game 5.”
Indeed, Florek did not suit up for that one. But if he is good enough for Game 6, it will be another chance for him to verify that a send-down is not a letdown for him.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via theahl.com
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