Although there are still a few days until the two conference leaders in the NHL meet at the TD Banknorth Garden, fans in New England got a bit of a sneak peak at the two organizations on Sunday. The Providence Bruins and Worcester Sharks hit the ice at the Dunkin' Donuts Center for the seventh time in their ten game season series. Despite the fact that both teams currently hold a playoff spot, it was the P-Bruins who picked up their sixth win over Worcester, taking a tight 3-2 decision on home ice.
Midway through the first period, the Baby B's opened the scoring. Wacey Rabbit spotted Adam McQuaid at the point for a shot on goal. Thomas Greiss made the save on McQuaid, but deflected the puck to Brad Marchand. Marchand quickly grabbed the rebound, and beat the recovering netminder for a 1-0 lead. Providence carried that edge into the intermission, outshooting the Sharks 9-7 in the opening stanza.
The lead lasted until the latter stages of the second period, when Worcester knotted the score. Andrew Bodnarchuk had been whistled for elbowing at the 13:21 mark of the frame, giving the Sharks their first power play of the afternoon. Lukas Kaspar had his shot blocked by a Bruin, with the shot bouncing over to Jamie McGinn in the right circle. McGinn gathered in the loose puck, before beating Tuukka Rask for the power play tally. Bodnarchuk's stay in the box lasted a mere 24 seconds before the goal. The two teams combined to toss 30 pucks on goal in the second, but McGinn's was the only one that counted, sending the game into the third period tied.
The Sharks were able to take the lead in the early stages of the third period, as they netted a second power play goal. Mikko Lehtonen was the guilty P-Bruin on this play, as he took a holding penalty with 12 seconds remaining in the second. Ryan Vesce dished a pass back to Patrick Traverse at the point. Traverse fired a shot toward the net that got tipped in by McGinn for the forward's second goal in as many periods.
That put the Peebs behind momentarily, but they were able to fight back with a power play goal of their own. Brad Staubitz put his club on the penalty kill at the 1:49 mark of the stanza, giving Providence a chance to tie things up. Once again, it was Adam McQuaid getting it going in the right direction, as he put a shot on Greiss from the point. McQuaid's shot was blocked on the way, but Mikko Lehtonen was there to redeem himself for his earlier penalty, nudging the puck over the line.
The game remained tied for the majority of the third period, until an undiscipline penalty by Worcester put the home team on the power play. Lukas Kaspar took a shot at a Providence player behind the net during a scrum, leading to a minor penalty for roughing. The P-Bruins capitalized 35 seconds into the man advantage on what could be looked at as a controversial goal. Johnny Boychuk received a pass from Martin St. Pierre at the point, and tossed a shot on goal. Greiss made the save, but the rebound came loose in the crease. That's where Mikko Lehtonen came in, kicked the puck to his stick, and knocked it into the cage. Referee Terry Koharski immediately waved off the goal, but was corrected by linesman Mark Messier, as the puck clearly hit Lehtonen's stick after his skate.
Things became tight in the final minute, as Providence's Jeremy Reich took a hooking penalty with 1:10 left to play. Luckily, his teammates were able to kill the penalty, hanging on for the 3-2 win. Tuukka Rask earned his 21st win of the season, stopping 26 of the 28 shots he faced. Thomas Greiss suffered the loss, making 31 saves on 34 shots.
With the win, the Baby B's continue to lead a very close Atlantic Division. Providence does have some breathing room, with a record of 29-19-3, which is good for 61 points. The Hartford Wolf Pack are in second place with 57 points, while the Portland Pirates and Worcester Sharks right behind them with 56 points each. The Lowell Devils and Manchester Monarchs are on the outside looking in at the moment, but both will look to make a strong push in the final few months. Lowell has 52 points, while Manchester has 47. The Springfield Falcons round out the Atlantic Division with 39 points, putting them 17 points out of a playoff spot with under 30 games remaining.
The Boston Bruins have one more day to prepare for their encounter with the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. The Providence Bruins are off until Friday night, when they host the San Antonio Rampage.