PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Brad Thiessen spent most of the final two months of the regular season watching Jeff Zatkoff command the net for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Fast forward three weeks, and Thiessen not only righted the ship for the Penguins playoff run, he was the main reason why the team made history on Wednesday night.
After Zatkoff allowed 12 goals in the first four periods of the series against the Providence Bruins, head coach John Hynes turned to Thiessen. From the second period of Game 2 to the end of Game 7, Thiessen responded by allowing a mere four goals. He finished the series with a minuscule 0.70 goals against average and a .978 save percentage.
More importantly, Thiessen guided the Penguins to four straight wins - the fourth coming via a fitting 5-0 shutout to wrap up the series.
By overcoming a 3-0 series deficit, the Penguins became just the third team in the AHL’s 77-year history to win a series after losing the first three.
Thiessen was a big reason behind the historic achievement.
“We were a little down and out and he gave us life early in the series,” Hynes said. “He continued to play well and that allowed us to get our feet on the ground and chip away.”
Thiessen’s feet were on the ground from the time he took over. In Game 3 he stopped 20-of-22 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss. After that, Thiessen only allowed two goals in the next four games - all wins, including two shutouts during the span.
It’s an achievement that even the normally modest Thiessen can’t ignore.
“You don’t really think about it when you’re in a game because I’m just trying to give my team a chance to win,” he said. “Whether it’s 98 percent (save percentage) or 82 percent, if we’re winning games it doesn’t matter in the playoffs.
“I’m just happy I was able to come in and give us a chance.”
Thiessen had plenty of motivation, in addition to the chance for a Calder Cup, to step up this postseason. Not only did his team have its season on the line with each game in the Providence series, Thiessen’s career as a Penguin faced elimination as well.
He’s an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season.
“I thought about that every now and again. But more important was the game at hand and not whether or not it was my last game here,” Thiessen said. “I tried to keep that in the back of my mind and focus on the game.”
With history on the line, Thiessen was as calm as ever in Game 7 on Wednesday. He made difficult saves look routine - including a stop on a David Warsofsky shot through traffic in front. Even the desperate flurries of shots from the Bruins in the third period didn’t faze Thiessen. He stopped them all, gave up few rebounds and stood tall in his crease.
His play not only drew the praise of coaches and teammates, Thiessen’s opponents couldn’t help but notice as well.
“Give him credit. He played great,” said Providence captain Trent Whitfield as he reflected on the series. “He did what he had to do to give them a chance to win. It happens like that sometimes. You get into a goalie’s head and we were able to get some pucks by him, they make a change and (Thiessen) has a fresh start with nothing to lose. He played great and I tip my hat to him and that entire team.”