4 Reasons to Believe the Providence Bruins Are True Playoff Contenders

Al DanielCorrespondent IIDecember 11, 2012

If Boston Bruins fans really must resort strictly to Providence for hockey action, this is one of the better times to do so.
If Boston Bruins fans really must resort strictly to Providence for hockey action, this is one of the better times to do so.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Since they brooked a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of the St. John’s IceCaps on Nov. 25, the Providence Bruins have percolated a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1), allowing no more and no fewer than two opposing goals per night.

Since dropping to 2-5-0 on the year with their third straight regulation loss back on Nov. 2, the Baby B's have gone 10-3-2.

Since finishing the first quarter of the 76-game schedule out of the Calder Cup playoff picture before this past weekend's action, the P-Bruins have suddenly ascended to sixth place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.

Choose from any one of those angles or customize your own. It quite literally does not matter.

As the Boston Bruins continue to see their season melt away, their child club is simply jelling and the collective fanbase might as well take notice to fill its harrowingly growing hockey void.

On the heels of a third straight postseason no-show and a series of offseason acquisitions, the P-Bruins are promising to ensure some sort of spring hockey in the black and gold family, even if their parents end up deprived of such an opportunity in 2013.

The four topmost trends favoring Providence that have been burgeoning in the dusk of autumn are as follows.

1. Moving On with Missing Pieces

Garnet Exelby, the elder statesman of the blue line who has flaunted exemplary efficiency when available, has sat out all but one of the last 10 games with a groin injury. It does not help much to know that sophomore Kevan Miller has not been available in recent weeks to try to build on his plus-20 rookie season.

Yet in Exelby’s absence, Matt Bartkowski has stepped up as the de facto successor as the defensive leader and the P-Bruins have gone 6-2-1.

Trent Whitfield, the captain and elder statesman of the forwards, has been out of commission since the final weekend of October. Would-be leaned-on rookie Jared Knight has also been on the sidelines since opening weekend while reigning top point-getter Carter Camper has not dressed since the last game before Thanksgiving.

Yet rather than stall until Whitfield’s uncertain return the way they did in 2010-11, the Bruins have reaped rewards from other veterans, particularly Chris Bourque and Jamie Tardif.

2. Points from the Point

Frostbitten throughout October and November, much of the Providence defense has thawed out its confidence in the attacking zone.

David Warsofsky has as much output to his credit (one goal, two assists) in the last six outings as he had over his previous 14. Zach Trotman has tripled his total points from two to six, scored his first goal of the season and succeeded Exelby as the club’s plus/minus leader since the team returned from Newfoundland.

Bartkowski and Torey Krug have likewise tallied their first goals in that span. Bartkowski has four total points this month along with an all-around irreproachable chemistry formula with call-up Tommy Cross.

3. A Better Backup Plan

Much like the collective defense with its shooting and playmaking, Michael Hutchinson need not look back after breaking his ice in key columns. The third-year professional netminder was new import Niklas Svedberg’s utter opposite early on, falling short in each of his first five appearances with shoddy stats on each night.

Each of the last two Saturdays, though, he has won a pair of away games with only two goals against and a save percentage exceeding .920.

The arrangement has allowed Svedberg to sandwich a rest night with an active Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. Hutchinson’s colleague has collected seven of his last eight possible points.

Contrast that with mid-November, when head coach Bruce Cassidy was implicitly compelled to ride his hot hand three straight days and watched Svedberg all but inevitably implode in a 6-2 letdown against Bridgeport.

4. Battling to the Buzzer

Assuming these past two weeks are the harbinger of a permanent U-turn, the nadir of the P-Bruins' season shall be their most recent regulation loss—namely, the 6-0 throttling on Nov. 25.

Recall that it was only 1-0 at the conclusion of the first period and a still surmountable 2-0 at the second intermission. The Bruins only began to unravel when Bobby Robins took a first-minute penalty and watched the deficit swell to three in the pivotal young moments of the closing frame.

Since then, Providence has authorized a one-goal deficit on seven occasions and trailed by a goal after the first period three times and once after 40 minutes. The lifespan of those deficits have ranged from less than two minutes of play to more than 31 minutes, but none have increased to two and none have lived through the end of regulation.

At some point in the next 54 games, the P-Bruins will suffer another vinegary outing with no gains in the point column. But they have fostered the right habits and collected the right collateral of confidence to prevent those future setbacks from breaking them.


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