You'd think after watching this team for 17 years and being a season ticket holder for 15 years, I would know better than to predict against them. I still have much to learn, I guess, as the WBS Penguins prevailed over the Providence Bruins in Game 1 of their first-round best-of-5 playoff series, 3-2 in overtime.
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) April 20, 2016
Expected #WBSPens D-pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) April 20, 2016
As the game began, I felt that things were progressing exactly as they had done last Saturday, with WBS taking the early game to Providence and, if not outright dominating them, then hanging with them. Providence was able to get their chances, with their standout rookie Frank Vatrano in particular forcing a couple of excellent chances, but WBS goalie Casey DeSmith, in his first playoff start in the AHL, was equal to all 12 shots he faced in the first. WBS was able to break through first, when Carter Rowney won an offensive zone faceoff cleanly to Will O'Neill at the point. O'Neill snapped a hard wrist shot at the net that Jake Guentzel somehow was able to get his stick on and deflect past the Providence goalkeeper Jeremy Smith at 13:13 of the first.
The first period ended with Vatrano taking a hard run at WBS defenseman Niclas Andersen, which brought the teams together for some pleasantries.
WBS did not waste any time expanding their lead in the second period, as the ever-tenacious forechecking of Kael Mouillierat forced the puck free in front of Smith, and Dustin Jeffrey was able to corral it and muscle home a backhander for a 2-0 lead.
From there, the Providence machine started to crank up, but DeSmith stood his ground, highlighted with a spectacular pair of pad saves on Max Talbot that brought the crowd of 3,257 to its feet with chants of CASEY, CASEY, CASEY. However, Providence was able to pounce on one piece of bad play from WBS. Andersen tried to play a puck in his neutral zone, but it skipped behind him to force a Providence 2 on 1. The last defender back, Steve Oleksy, tried to dive to the ice to swat the puck away with his stick, but he missed, and when Seth Griffith hurdled the downed Oleksy, it turned into 2 on 0, Talbot passing to Griffith, goal. 2-1 after 40 minutes.
Providence was able to take advantage of the only other egregious error WBS made all night, as a puck escaped the WBS zone during the only full-length PP of the night for either team, and Noel Acciari found Colby Cave on a shorthanded 2 on 1 to tie the game. The remainder of regulation passed without any further scoring, leading to overtime. Providence outshot WBS 33-24 in regulation, but they did not have a chance to put any shots on goal in overtime, as once again the forecheck of WBS forced a turnover behind Smith. When the captain, Tom Kostopoulos, found Carter Rowney alone in front, Rowney fired the game-winner into the top corner of the net, and the crowd exploded in cheers that only escalated when, instead of this year's Van Halen goal song or even the Bachman Turner Overdrive we've come to expect from victories, we got Andrew WK instead.
The fans were more than eager to Party Hard, as the team saluted their faithful following their Game 1 victory.
DeSmith was stellar in goal, making 31 saves (some spectacular) on 33 shots for a well-deserved third star. Dustin Jeffrey took second honors with his goal, and of course the top honors on the night went to Carter Rowney for the game winner.
Game 1 also featured the WBS debut of Daniel Sprong, who recorded two shots on goal in the first period, the first of which backed Jeremy Smith so close to his post that he knocked it out of its hole causing a stoppage. Sprong was otherwise unspectacular tonight, which is not to detract from what he is capable of, and he did not see the ice in the third period or overtime, as coach Clark Donatelli shortened his bench to his top 3 lines in the third period, rotating Tom Sestito in and out with Dominik Simon alongside Jeffrey and Mouillierat. The original plan was to have DeSmith start Game 1 and Jarry Game 2, but DeSmith's performance tonight surely casts that plan into doubt.
Game 2 of the series is set for Thursday night at 7:05 pm.