2019 Playoff Preview: P-Bruins vs Checkers
The 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs have arrived, and the Providence Bruins have arguably the toughest draw of any team. The P-Bruins, who are the four seed, take on the top team in the AHL as they welcome the Charlotte Checkers to town for the Atlantic Division Semifinals. Charlotte was the only team in the AHL with over 50 wins and as such boast one of the most well-rounded attacks in the league. However, the P-Bruins have matched up well with the Checkers, as all but one of their eight games were decided by a single goal. Providence was 4-3-1 against Charlotte and 2-1-1 at the Dunk, outscoring them 19-18 overall.
The Checkers present a challenge in all phases of the game, ranking second in goals scored and third in goals allowed. The P-Bruins were middle of the pack offensively, but finished third in the Eastern Conference in goals against and allowed the fewest shots per game in the AHL. Special teams play also figures to be even as both squads feature a strong penalty killing unit. Charlotte led the AHL with an 86.6% kill rate while Providence ranked fourth at 85%. Head to head, neither team's power play could find a rhythm as the Checkers were 5-36 (13.9%) against the P-Bruins penalty kill and the Bruins were 3-28 (10.8%) versus the Checkers.
Providence will likely have to improve on this number if they want to win the series, especially going against the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award winner. Checkers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic was voted the AHL's outstanding goaltender and was also named a First Team AHL All-Star. He led the league in wins (34), GAA (2.26) and minutes played while posting four shutouts. He has been superb against the Bruins, going 3-0-1 with a 2.24 GAA in four games. Should he struggle, the Checkers have two other options that can get the job done. Scott Darling has played four games against the Bruins this year, and despite recording just one win has a 1.94 GAA. Dustin Tokarski faced Providence four times while with the Hartford Wolf Pack earlier this season, going 2-1-1 with a 2.72 GAA and a shutout.
Zane McIntyre, who has shown he can carry a team between the pipes during the playoffs, likely will get the start in game one. Against the high-powered Charlotte offense, he will have to be in his game, but if his regular season numbers against them hold true he will be up to the task. McIntyre went 3-1-1 against them with a 2.14 GAA and a save percentage of 92.6%. If head coach Jay Leach wants to mix up their goaltending, Dan Vladar also has done well stopping the Checkers attack. He posted a 2.36 GAA, a 92.5% save percentage and had arguably the best game of his young career. On February 2 in Charlotte, Vladar stopped all 37 shots he saw and helped Providence to a 1-0 overtime win.
Offensively, the Checkers have plenty of different ways to score with seven players posting 40 points or more. This includes Andrew Poturalski, who was fifth in the league with 70 points and seventh with 47 assists. The P-Bruins, like the rest of the AHL, had a tough time slowing him down as he had three goals and five points in the season series to lead the team. However, Providence did a good job containing the Checkers leading goal scorer Aleksi Saarela. None of his team-leading 30 goals came against the Bruins and he scored just two points in eight games, but Charlotte has shown they don't need to rely on one player. The rookie duo of Martin Necas and Morgan Geekie along with their top scoring defensemen Trevor Carrick and Jake Bean will certainly present a challenge and test Providence's depth.
The P-Bruins have dealt with injuries and call-ups all season, but it looks as if the team is finally healthy at right time. Defensively, Chris Breen practiced this week and hopes to play for the first time in April while the team already got Kyle Cumiskey and Urho Vaakanainen back from injury last week. Paul Carey, the team's leading scorer during the regular season and in the season series, is back from Boston along with Jakub Zboril so the depth up and down the lineup will be strong. Providence also receives one of Boston's top prospects with Jack Studnicka coming over from the OHL. He scored 83 points in 60 games between the Niagara Ice Dogs and Oshawa Generals and should help the Bruins roll out four lines capable of producing.
Game one of this best-of-five series starts Saturday night at the Dunk, and the P-Bruins know they need to get off to a fast start. Providence was tied for the fourth best winning percentage on home ice while Charlotte led the league in that category. The team certainly has their hands full with the Checkers, but if there is one team ready to knock off the top team in the AHL, it is the P-Bruins.
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