BostonBruins.com - As Boston begins their final stretch to the 2014 postseason, locked into the top spot in the Eastern Conference, those donning the Providence Black & Gold are pushing to make their own playoff run.
With five games remaining in the P-Bruins' regular season, beginning with their game against the Norfolk Admirals on April 11, they sit in seventh place in the East with 86 points.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is just above with 88 points, and the Albany Devils are three points back with 83. The Hershey Bears (82) and Norfolk Admirals (81) are currently both on the outside of the playoff picture.
Providence's final stretch features games against both Norfolk and Albany, before they finish the season with two games against Manchester and a season-closing tilt in Worcester on April 19.
"I think we're in a good frame of mind, we're in the mix," Providence Head Coach Bruce Cassidy said amidst his squad's playoffs push. "We've played some good games and we've played some that we need to be better; it seems that for the last [eight] weeks, it's been a lot of one-goal games, and I think that builds character."
"Guys understand how to play in these tight games and we're getting better at it. There's some games we need to close out better but you know, we're young and we're going to go through those hiccups but as long as we continue to keep our way up the standings, I think we'll be okay."
The 2013-14 Providence Bruins are a much different blend than the 2012-13 version, with a handful of first-year pros coming into the lineup after junior and college careers, and a number of new additions, either through free agency or trade.
In the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs, Providence made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, before falling in Game 7 to Wilkes/Barre-Scranton.
In the first round, they lost their first two games to the Hershey Bears before powering back for three straight wins to take the five-game series.
The semifinal against Wilkes/Barre saw the P-Bruins win their first three games against the Penguins, putting up 14 goals, before losing four straight with just two goals scored. By the time Game 3 rolled around, though, Providence had seen two of their top defenders, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug, get called to Boston to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As the 2013-14 squad makes a run to the Calder Cup Playoffs, the roster still boasts prospects who experienced the highs and lows of those series, and will look to build on that experience.
Among the group who suited up in all 12 playoffs games for Providence last year are Craig Cunningham, Ryan Spooner, Justin Florek, David Warsofsky, Bobby Robins, Tommy Cross and Niklas Svedberg.
Jared Knight played six games and Zach Trotman suited up in four. Matt Bartkowski, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug and Jordan Caron - now all mainstays in Boston - all played significant roles for Providence.
The new faces for 2014 include first year pros Alexander Khokhlachev, Seth Griffith, Matt Lindblad, Anthony Camara, Chris Casto and Malcolm Subban; along with offseason free agent signings Nick Johnson and Mike Moore; and two prospects acquired in the summer trade with Dallas, Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow.
An AHL veteran, Moore has led the P-Bruins as captain all season, and solidified their defense corps, especially when Miller left the team to stay in Boston following long-term injuries to Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid.
With six wins in their past eight games entering the matchup with Norfolk on April 11, the P-Bruins are on track to make back-to-back trips to the postseason.
Down the stretch, Johnson, Fraser, Morrow and Warsofsky all spent time out of the lineup with injuries, and the upped time for younger prospects will only benefit Providence as they move forward.
"We're a younger group, but we're confident and we're a good skating team, and we're all excited to be here and play," said Matt Lindblad. "It's really important that everyone shows up to the rink with good spirits and get ready to work."
It also helps having a parent club with high expectations, that filter down to their AHL affiliate.
"They buy into what a Boston Bruin looks like, and what they need to be," said Cassidy, of his P-Bruins squad. "We try to do all of those things down here that they do up there in terms of accountability away from the puck, and playing a 200-foot game and a lot of guys have gotten an opportunity [to play their first NHL game this season]. That's great for us down here."
"They can't all stay obviously - that's a Stanley Cup lineup they're going into there - but it's nice to see them get a sniff and be around those veteran guys and learn a little from them and have it rub off on them."
While Boston finds itself in another hunt for the Stanley Cup, Providence continues to raise its expectations as they strive for a Calder Cup.
"It's a good experience to watch every day how they get better," said Anthony Camara, of watching every Boston game. "You've got to know how to play to get to the next level."