Casey DeSmith turned in an outstanding performance in net for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday night, saving 31 of 33 shots in WBS's Game 1 OT win. He did exactly what he needed to do as the supposed "backup" goaltender...play so well as to make it as hard as possible for his coach to replace him. As it turned out, coach Clark Donatelli decided to abandon his previously announced plan to play Tristan Jarry in Game 2, as he stuck with the hot goalie in DeSmith.
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) April 21, 2016
Expected #WBSPens D-pairings:
— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) April 21, 2016
Expected #WBSPens D-pairings:
The first period played out exactly as Game 1 did...physical, high tempo, and violent. The score, however, did not follow the script. With Providence's Brian Ferlin in the box for roughing, the high-pressure Providence penalty kill forced Daniel Sprong to turn the puck over at the blue line, and Noel Acciari broke away shorthanded for an unassisted goal at 2:51 of the first.
Later in the first, Will O'Neill's stick inexplicably exploded on him as he attempted a pass in his neutral zone, allowing Colby Cave break in and score an unassisted goal of his own. Despite outhitting, outskating, and outplaying Providence in the first 20 minutes, WBS found itself down 2-0 and, worse yet, facing a 5 on 3 penalty kill to start the second period.
What followed was the best 20 minutes of hockey WBS has played in weeks. After fending off the dangerous Providence power play, Tim Erixon found himself with the puck at the high point of the Providence zone. His hard slap shot somehow found its way under Providence goalie Jeremy Smith's pad, and just like that, Providence's lead was cut in half at 2:46 of the first.
Just 4:03 later, Sprong atoned for his turnover in a huge way, as he took a Kael Mouillierat centering pass and slammed it home past Smith for his first goal for WBS and a tie game.
Then, just 3:51 after that, the captain's line struck again, as Jake Guentzel's forecheck caused a Providence turnover, and Carter Rowney fed Tom Kostopoulos in front for the go-ahead goal.
The Penguins were flying, and they saw their 3-2 lead through to the end of the second period, outshooting a shell-shocked Providence team 25-18 after 40 minutes.
To their credit, Providence did not roll over easily, as they stormed out of the locker rooms for the third period and took all of 54 seconds to tie the game through their star rookie Frank Vatrano off a goal mouth scrum...the first goal scored by Providence this series that had not been gifted to them by WBS turnovers or misfortune. From there, the goalies took over, as DeSmith stopped the remaining 11 shots he faced in the third while his counterpart Smith stopped all 7 WBS efforts, including a desperate dive to stop Mouillierat and a point-blank save on Kostopoulos in the dying minutes.
For the second straight night, the Penguins and Bruins needed extra time, and it looked bleak for WBS at first as Niclas Andersen, so solid on defense for WBS all night, blocked a shot, then cleared it out of play for a hard-luck delay of game penalty. The Providence PP went to work, but they were thwarted at every chance. At one point, as the puck trickled down the ice towards Smith, Mouillierat and Dustin Jeffrey pursued in earnest. Mouillierat got a little too close to Smith as Smith sent the puck into the corner, taking down the Providence net minder as, in the same instant, Jeffrey fired the puck into the empty cage. The goal was originally given, seemingly awarding WBS an incredible 2-0 series advantage, but after consultation and the loud protests of the paid crowd of 3,711, the goal was rescinded. The rest of the Providence PP passed without incident, and as soon as I registered that Daniel Sprong was on the ice for overtime, lightning struck.
Mouillierat's seemingly harmless centering pass against a 2 on 4 somehow found a streaking Sprong, and the star rookie made no mistake in finishing his second goal of the night and the game-winner as the WBS Penguins indeed took that 2-0 series lead. Final score: Penguins 4, Bruins 3, Party Hard 2.
Carter Rowney's primary assist on Kostopoulos's goal in the second period, along with tenacious play all night, earned third star honors. Kostopoulos's goal earned second star honors, but the clear star of the night in a redemption story with a happy ending was Daniel Sprong, who shook off his turnover to score his first two goals for WBS in only his second game out of juniors. Casey DeSmith continued his standout play in net, stopping 30 of 33 Providence chances for his second win in as many nights.
Friday is a travel day for the two teams, as they ship up to Providence for the conclusion of this series starting Saturday at 7:05 pm with Game 3. WBS now needs only one win in up to three chances in Providence to take down the Bruins and advance to round 2.
My prediction of Providence in 4 is now up in flames, so here's hoping the Penguins continue proving me wrong.