The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have just made AHL history with a Game 7 victory over the Providence Bruins. A week ago the Pens were down 0-3 and looked to be ready to head home for the summer. But while other teams are referred to as "Pesky" due to their uncanny ability to cause havoc, WBS is lovingly referred to as the "Cardiac Pens" for their heart attack inducing close calls and comebacks. They bounced back, due in large part to the stellar goaltending by Brad Thiessen. Even if the Pens don't manage to win the Calder Cup this year, Thiessen has my vote for playoff MVP just for the miraculous comeback they made to steal Round 2.
In the entire history of the AHL (which was founded back to 1936), only 4 teams, the 1960 Rochester Americans; the 1989 Adirondack Red Wings; the 2011 Hamilton Bulldogs; and now the 2013 WBS Penguins, have ever come back from a 3 game deficit to force a Game 7. Of those, only the Amerks, Bulldogs, and Pens have managed to pull off a game 7 victory to win the series after trailing 3 games to none. But the Pens set a record of their own, being the first team in AHL history to come back after trailing 3-0 and win Game 7 on the road.
As I mentioned in my post a few days ago, this historic achievement is not limited to just the AHL. Even amongst the major league sports, only 4 teams have ever come back after trailing 3-0 to win the series in Game 7. In the NHL this was accomplished by the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders, and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers. Outside of the NHL, the MLB's 2004 Boston Red Sox were the only other major league team to accomplish this feat. So WBS' victory was quite impressive and they join a small group of teams that were able to reach this milestone.
A Breakdown of the Series
The series opened with Game 1 in Providence, with the Pens falling in a 8-5 bloodbath that saw starting goaltender Jeff Zatkoff only making 19 Saves on 27 Shots (.704 Save%). Game 2 in Providence the Pens took a beating, after taking an early 1 goal lead they let up 4 Goals in the first, Zatkoff only making 9 Saves on 13 Shots (.692 Save%) before Zatkoff was replaced. His 12 Goals in just 4 periods of play gave him a 9.07 GAA and a .700 Save% for the series. This is quite shocking for Zatkoff, who finished the season with the AHL's best GAA and combined with Thiessen walked away with the Harry "Hap" Holmes Memorial Award for AHL's Best Goaltending Duo. However, considering that the Bruins goaltender Niklas Svedberg won the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Memorial Award for the AHL's Best Goaltender, the entire series saw some uncharacteristic high scores. Svedberg managed to let in 21 Goals during the series, making 170 Saves on 191 Shots, for a 3.13 GAA and a .890 Save%.
Thiessen came in for the start of the 2nd period of Game 2, and despite some excellent offensive chances and a 2nd period goal they were unable to bounce back, but Thiessen managed to keep the Bruins scoreless for the remainder of the game. Game 3 saw the Pens head home to WBS, with both teams playing well and the game going back and forth, but unfortunately the managed to lose it 2-1 in OT. However, now that Thiessen and the defense had the Bruins figured out, they were able to finish of their home stand on their way to a historical comeback, winning Game 4 3-1 and Game 5 4-0. With the series on the line, the Bruins fought back hard in Game 6, but Thiessen was still in top form and the Pens managed to win 2-1 in OT. Most amazingly, the Pens pulled this off despite being massively out shot 47-18.
So both teams came into Game 7 with a must win attitude, the Pens looking to make history and the Bruins looking to avoid the infamous distinction of being one of the teams that allowed such a comeback. Despite some excellent chances and near misses, Thiessen was up the the task, and the Pens managed to take the lead with 4 goals in the 2nd, ending Svedberg's season in a manner reminiscent of the final flight of the Hindenberg. The Pens walked away with another shutout, finishing the game 5-0 and moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals, which begins this Saturday away vs the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning).
Thiessen finished the series with an amazing 4-1 record, notching 2 shutouts and allowing only 4 goals and making 177 Saves on 181 Shots, finishing with a 0.70 GAA and a .978 Save%. So a historical comeback from a 3-0 deficit led by a goaltender who put up ungodly numbers. If they can carry this momentum with them to the next round and continue to play at this level, they should have quite a good chance to walk away with the franchise's first ever Calder Cup. As I mentioned, I would gladly vote for Thiessen as Playoff MVP just based on his performance this series. Even adding in his 1 game from the 1st round sweep of the Binghamton Senators, Thiessen currently leads the AHL playoff goaltenders with a 0.89 GAA and a .970 Save %.