BostonBruins.com - The Providence Bruins are in the midst of an intriguing Calder Cup run in the AHL playoffs, in the team’s first postseason appearance since 2009.
Providence overcame a 0-2 deficit in the opening round of their best-of-five series against the Hershey Bears to win the next three contests including two road games. The P-Bruins followed that success up by winning both home games in the second-round best-of-seven against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. In the five wins, the offense has come alive, led by veterans Jamie Tardif, who leads the club with seven goals (in as many games) and Chris Bourque, whose 13 points paces the team and league (along with Syracuse’s Tyler Johnson).
However, the unexpected young playoff hero, thus far, has been Providence centerman Carter Camper, who recorded his first professional hat trick and the game-winner in a rousing come-from-behind victory against Hershey in Game 4.
The undrafted free agent who signed with Boston after a stellar collegiate career with the Miami University Redhawks in 2011 makes up for what he lacks in size (5-foot-9, 173 pounds) and pure speed with outstanding hockey sense, vision and a slick stick. His six goals and 11 points is second to Bourque, but Camper’s timely offense has been integral to making sure Providence survived to see the second round after such a disappointing start to the 2013 playoffs at home. His ability to slip through seams in defenses, take the puck to the net, and provide opportunistic scoring has given opponents everything they can handle.
Camper, who turns 25 in July, battled nagging injuries and was limited to just 57 games during the regular season. The Cleveland-area native is fully healthy and has found a way to take his offensive game to another level when it matters most. Even if Camper’s physical traits don’t jump out as an ideal fit for the NHL, he did not look out of place during a three-game big league call-up during 2011-12 (one goal), and he’s been productive at every level in his young career. For Providence, Camper’s early explosion could not have come at a better time, and the team is reaping the benefits.
Two-way forward Craig Cunningham has shown significant progress this season, his second full AHL campaign. Like Camper, the former WHL captain of the Vancouver Giants, who finished his major junior career with the Portland Winterhawks, is undersized, but highly intelligent and competitive. Cunningham finished second to Tardif in Providence goal scoring during the regular season with 25, and manages to find ways to score in key situations. He tallied the crucial tying score in Game 4 against Hershey and scored the eventual game-winning goal in Providence’s 8-5 victory over the Penguins in Game 1 of the second round. Cunningham also assisted on Tardif’s decisive goal in Providence’s Game 2 triumph.
Even if Cunningham may not possess elite straight-line speed, he’s an elusive skater who sees the ice well and effectively diagrams plays before they fully develop. His hockey IQ and good hands allow him to generate quality scoring chances, and the 22-year-old is stepping up his production at the right time.
Other Providence youngsters who have contributed positively to the team’s fortunes include 2009 first-rounder Jordan Caron (two goals, seven points) and Ryan Spooner (two goals, five points). Their youth and talent makes the Providence forward group an even more difficult challenge for opposing defenses to contain.
Defenseman Kevan Miller has long been a stabilizing defensive presence on the Providence blue line, but his five assists, through four games, have been a source of unexpected, but welcome offense. The mobile and rugged former University of Vermont captain will be even more important going forward as both the Boston and Providence defense corps are depleted, necessitating the recalls of Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug to the big club as injury replacements.
In net, Niklas Svedberg got off to an uneven start, but rode the wave during Providence’s five-game winning streak, getting help from the offense while he worked through the rough stretches. He is coming off his best start of the playoffs, posting 38 saves. With his size and quickness, Svedberg is difficult to beat on the first shot, and while his play at times gets a little scrambly, he battles through traffic to locate pucks. All year, he distinguished himself with an ability to make the big save with the game on the line. While Svedberg’s postseason stats are not up to par with his regular season numbers, his 5-2 record speaks volumes for where the team is right now.
With the series shifting to the road, Providence will be tested, but the team has demonstrated notable character to bounce back and is rounding into form as the AHL’s most accomplished team during the regular season.
Kirk Luedeke covers the Boston Bruins and NHL prospects for the New England Hockey Journal and is a contributing editor and hockey scout for the Red Line Report. You can follow him on Twitter at: @kluedeke29