PROVIDENCE, R.I. - If there is one thing to be learned from the Providence Bruins this postseason, it's that they can never be counted out. Series deficits and multi-goal holes have been brushed aside with ease by the P-Bruins during their march to the Eastern Conference Finals.
And, at least for a few moments Friday night, it appeared that Providence would prove resilient once again. Trailing by three goals in the third period, the P-Bruins notched two goals just 13 seconds apart to pull within one and had several chances to tie things in the closing minutes.
Providence seemed poised for another stirring comeback, but this time their charge fell just short, as Syracuse potted two empty-netters en route to a 6-3 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Friday night in front of 3,431 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
"They were hungry coming out of the gates, made a couple plays around our net, they capitalized on a couple plays," said Providence netminder Zane McIntyre, who made 19 saves. "We're a resilient group here, battled back and pushed hard in the third. There are good things to take from it and make adjustments and be more prepared for Sunday."
Video: McIntyre speaks after Providence's Game 1 loss
Providence head coach Kevin Dean was disappointed in the result and felt his team appeared to be somewhat drained following two grueling series - both of which went the distance - to open the Calder Cup Playoffs.
"I think some of that is fatigue," said Dean. "I expect us to be better on Sunday and I think we will be. We've responded well most of the season in that kind of game. I don't ever fault our effort, but I thought some guys that had big minutes in big moments in Hershey were tired tonight and it's to be expected."
Trailing, 4-1, with just over seven minutes to go, Providence began to chip away when Jake DeBrusk took a feed from Matt Grzelcyk and cruised up the right wing, before ripping one short side over the glove of Syracuse goalie Mike McKenna.
Just 13 seconds later, the P-Bruins were within a goal. After winning the ensuing faceoff, Providence regrouped in its own end before starting back up the ice. Tommy Cross delivered a pass up the middle to Wayne Simpson, who sped into the Syracuse zone and dropped a pass to Danton Heinen.
Heinen then let a wrister go from the top of the left circle that beat McKenna and cut the Syracuse lead to 4-3. DeBrusk and Heinen are now tied for the team lead with six goals apiece this postseason.
"There's no doubt about it," McIntyre said when asked if he believed Providence was ready to make another comeback. "We have confidence in our group…obviously everyone on the ice and our coaching staff as well. As a group, we trust each other and hold each other accountable. We're going to be resilient and keep pushing on.
"I don't know if that's our game plan, by any means. We want to initiate play and kind of dictate play."
Providence did just that early on, outshooting Syracuse, 16-8, in the first period, highlighted by a handful of robust scoring chances. But their effort did not show on the scoreboard, as the Crunch proved opportunistic while building a 2-0 lead after one period.
Syracuse opened the scoring just 3:57 into the game when Tye McGinn capitalized off a turnover in the slot and beat McIntyre to the low glove side. Michael Bournival doubled the lead at 12:20 of the first when he poked home a loose puck from the top of the crease.
"That first goal we had the puck three times, turned it over three times and it ends up in the back of our net. We shot ourselves in the foot," said Dean. "We gave them two goals…the first two goals are pretty much unacceptable."
The P-Bruins got on the board early in the second when defenseman Alex Grant (goal, assist) knocked down a Syracuse clear attempt and let one rip with Anton Blidh providing a stellar screen in front of McKenna.
But just 2:19 later, with Tyler Randell in the box for boarding, Syracuse regained their two-goal lead on a tally from Joel Vermin. Gabriel Dumont made it 4-1 at the 4:23 mark of the third period.
"I think we're a confident group and my message after the game was pretty positive, in terms of we generated a lot, we made some uncharacteristic mistakes in areas where we're usually good," said Dean. "Because they're uncharacteristic, I think we can get ahead of them and if we continue to generate chances we should be in decent shape."
Banged Up B's
Providence was without several key players to begin the Eastern Conference Finals. Up front, Noel Acciari (upper-body), Sean Kuraly (upper-body), and Peter Mueller (lower-body) missed Game 1. On the back end, Rob O'Gara, who has not played since Game 3 of the P-Bruins' first-round series against Wilkes-Barre, missed his 10th straight game.
The injury to Acciari, who was banged up in Game 7 against Hershey, allowed winger Zach Senyshyn to re-enter the lineup. He had played in just one playoff game this spring - his professional hockey debut - in Game 3 against Wilkes-Barre.
Senyshyn landed one shot on goal while skating on the right wing alongside Colton Hargrove and Colby Cave.
"I liked him. He hasn't been here for a lot of practices, coming back in the d-zone a couple times I thought he got lost," said Dean. "But he was good on the walls for the most part and he did generate some chances, had a couple chances in the second period.
"I think that was a good taste for him and something he can definitely build on."
Video: Dean reacts to Providence's Game 1 loss
A Long Time Coming
According to the AHL, the last time teams from Providence and Syracuse squared off in the Calder Cup Playoffs was during the 1939 quarterfinals, when the Providence Reds battled the Syracuse Stars.