WILKES-BARRE TWP. – When the final buzzer sounded at the end of Game 7, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Head Coach John Hynes turned around to the fans behind the bench and wiped his brow.
What once seemed like an easy night for the Penguins turned into a nail-biter in the final minutes of Wednesday’s contest against the Providence Bruins.
A five-goal outburst from the Penguins in the second was just enough to stave off Bruins comeback en route to a 5-4 win. The Penguins take the Eastern Conference Semifinals series and will face St. John’s in the conference finals beginning this Saturday.
It marks the second straight year and the sixth time overall that the Penguins have reached the conference finals.
“It was interesting,” Hynes said about a third period that saw Providence cut the Penguins’ lead to one goal with 10 minutes left. “We bent, but we didn’t break completely, but it’s not the most comforting situation.”
After a scoreless but up-tempo first period from both teams, the first half of the second period turned into a blur of Penguin goals and Providence penalties.
Anton Zlobin got the ball rolling when he sent a bad angle wrister past Bruins goaltender Niklas Svedberg to make it 1-0 at 1:17. Two minutes later Conor Sheary buried a pass from Nick Drazenovic to make it 2-0 during a power play.
At the five minute mark, Jayson Megna scored his first of the postseason and 13 seconds later Brian Gibbons added his first when he skated between two defenders and slid the puck under Svedberg to make it 4-0.
After that Providence pulled Svedberg for Malcolm Subban, who promptly gave up a goal to Brendan Mikkelson via a shot from the point during a power play at 7:16 to make it 5-0. The goal was the first of the postseason for Mikkelson and would stand as the game-winner.
But Providence wasn’t finished.
David Warsofsky scored a shorthanded tally in the last minute of the period, and then Ryan Spooner connected just 23 seconds into the third to make it 5-2.
Before the halfway mark of the period, Alexander Khohklachev scored twice in three minutes to make it 5-4 with plenty of time remaining.
Mannino wasn’t surprised by the Providence comeback, which he said began with the goal late in the second period.
“We knew that would give them some momentum,” he said. “It’s a Game 7 and you have to expect stuff like this. I just kept thinking we’re still ahead and we just had to keep that lead and get through this round.”
After that Mannino came up big in net, stopping a Nick Johnson tip shot in front and a wrister from Seth Griffith, who was wide open at the corner, to preserve the one-goal lead.
“When you get in that situation your goalie has to come up big for you, which (Mannino) did,” Hynes said.
“It was a really long period, but it was special. An extremely hard fought series.”
The Pens are 21-12 all-time when facing elimination, and 7-2 since 2012.
• G Eric Hartzell, D Reid McNeill, C Mike Carman, RW Carter Rowney, D Nick D’Agostino, D Harrison Ruopp, LW Bobby Farnham, C Andrew Ebbett (injury), RW Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, RW Bryan Rust, RW Josh Archibald and LW Scott Wilson were scratched for the Penguins.
• The Penguins are now 22-12 when facing elimination, and 8-2 since 2012. They have won the last three Game 7’s, including a 5-0 win over Providence in last season’s playoffs.
* * *
Providence 4 Penguins 5
Providence`0` 1`3 `— 4
Scoring – None. Penalties – WBS, Zolnierczyk (hooking) 3:52.
Scoring – 1. WBS, Anton Zlobin 5 (Megna) 1:17. 2. WBS, Conor Sheary 5 (Drazenovic, Kobasew) power play 3:24. 3. WBS, Jayson Megna 1 (Zolnierczyk) 5:22. 4. Brian Gibbons 1 unassisted 5:35. 5. WBS, Brendan Mikkelson 1 (Despres, Kostopoulos) power play 7:16. 6. PRO, David Warsofsky 2 (Simonelli, Cherniwchan) shorthanded 19:06. Penalties – PRO, Knight (holding) 2:17; PRO, Randell (interference) 3:59; WBS, Zlobin (hooking) 4:49; PRO, Cunningham (interference) 6:23; PRO, Moore (unsportsmanlike conduct) 7:16; WBS, Kobasew (unsportsmanlike conduct) 7:16; PRO, Moore (tripping) 12:54.
Scoring – 7. PRO, Ryan Spooner 6 (Parlett) :23. 8. PRO, Alexander Khohklachev 8 (Warsofsky, Cross) 6:43. 9. PRO, Alexander Khohklachev 9 (Spooner) power play 9:55. Penalties – WBS, Samuelsson (interference) 8:50; PRO, bench – served by Kane (too many men) 15:58; WBS, Samuelsson (slashing) 18:47; PRO, Khohklachev (high-sticking double-minor) 19:45; WBS, Mikkelson (cross-checking) 19:45.
Shots on goal
Providence – 3-9-13-25
Penguins – 10-14-3-27
Providence – 1 of 4
Penguins – 2 of 6
Providence – Niklas Svedberg (11 saves – 15 shots); Malcolm Subban – 5:35 of the second period, 2-2 (11-12)
Penguins – Peter Mannino 7-4 (21-25)
Providence – G Niklas Svedberg, D David Warsofsky, D Blake Parlett, LW Craig Cunningham, C Ryan Spooner, RW Cory Kane
Penguins – G Peter Mannino, D Philip Samuelsson, D Simon Despres, LW Harry Zolnierczyk, C Brian Gibbons, RW Chuck Kobasew
1. WBS, Jayson Megna (goal, assist) 2. WBS, Brian Gibbons (goal) 3. WBS< Tom Kostopoulos (goal)
Referee – Dave Lewis, Terry Koharski. Linesmen – Jud Ritter, Francis Trempe
Attendance – 3,613