WILKES-BARRE, TWP. – Tim Erixon carried the puck behind his own net and then slid it up to Teddy Blueger to avoid an oncoming Providence Bruins forechecker.
The pass was rushed just enough to catch the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins rookie center off guard. Instead of handling the puck cleanly, Blueger was left to watch in horror as it redirected off his skate, through the crease, and right to a Bruins forward for an easy goal.
The miscue, which came just 75 seconds into the Penguins Game 4 showdown with the Bruins in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, set the tone for a tough first period that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton never recovered from.
Trailing the best-of-five series 2-1, the Bruins took the ice on Friday needing a win to keep their season alive and it showed as they burst out to a 3-0 first-period lead on their way to pinning a 4-2 loss on the Penguins in front of 5,154 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Penguins now face a winner-take-all Game 5 this Sunday afternoon at home.
Blueger and Ethan Prow finished with the Penguins goals in front of Casey DeSmith, who stopped 38 shots in the loss. Providence rookie Jake DeBrusk added two tallies of his own in support of Zane McIntyre, who stopped 27 to extend the Bruins season at least one more game.
Things went from ugly to cringe worthy for the Penguins shortly after Blueger’s giveaway led to a Wayne Simpson goal at the 1:15 mark, when they were caught with too many men on the ice. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was able to kill off the penalty, but the mix-up was a sign of things to come.
Right before the nine-minute mark, Oskar Sundqvist was called for a hook and the Bruins responded with a Colton Hargrove power-play goal that was actually inadvertently tipped in past DeSmith by Kevin Porter.
Providence then bookended the nightmare of a period with a goal from DeBrusk at 19:15 that came after Derrick Pouliot, who played the hero in Game 2, had a shot blocked and was then caught flat-footed as the Bruins raced back up the ice on an odd-man rush.
DeBrusk connected again on his very next shot on goal at the 14:09 mark in the second period when he redirected a slapper from the blue line from Tommy Cross.
The Penguins showed life three minutes later when Dominik Simon, who finished the night with two assists, forced a defensive zone turnover by the Bruins and then found Blueger for the rookie’s first of the postseason to make it a 4-1 game.
Prow then tipped home an Erixon shot midway through the third period to cut the Bruins lead to two.
The goal brought the arena, which had been eerily quiet almost since the 1:15 mark in the first period, back to life and spurred the Penguins best continual stretch of play of the night.
Unfortunately for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, McIntyre did not rattle and the Penguins, who pulled DeSmith for an extra attacker with 2:34 left in regulation, were never able to close the gap.
Turning Point: The Penguins probably could have recovered from two largely self-inflicted first-period goals, but when DeBrusk blocked Pouliot’s shot and then raced down the ice and beat DeSmith with a quick well-placed wrist shot, the Penguins knew they were in trouble.
What it means: The series is now tied 2 games to 2. Each team has now won one game on the other’s home ice. The Penguins, who finished with the AHL’s top regular-season record, will have home ice for Game 5.
Worth mentioning: The Penguins will have history on their side on Sunday. They’ve gone 6-1 all-time in winner-take-all Game 5s. They’ve also gone 24-15 in elimination games in general and 16-5 at home. … The Penguins allowed a Bruins power-play goal for the fourth game in a row. Providence is now 5-for-19 on the man-advantage this series. … Providence rookie Jake DeBrusk (two goals tonight) and WBS defenseman David Warsofsky are now tied for the series lead in goals with three each. … The Penguins were outshot in every period except the third on Friday, which was tied 9-9. … The Bruins have now outscored the Penguins 4-0 in the first period this series. … The Bruins played without four regulars on Friday: Rob O’Gara (lower body), Ben Marshall (upper body), Peter Mueller (facial injury) and Peter Cehlarik (upper body). … WBS defenseman Frank Corrado (lower body) missed his third game in a row.
By the numbers: 26-18 – The Providence Bruins all-time record when facing elimination in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Quote: “That mistake kind of set us off on the wrong foot,” Teddy Blueger said. “I don’t think going into the game we were relaxed. I just think that a couple mistakes cost us and they were a little more desperate than us and that was ultimately the difference. By the time we started to show some desperation it was already too late.”
Up next: Game 5 is Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 3:05 p.m.