SYRACUSE, N.Y. - There are generally few positives that can be gained from being eliminated from the postseason. Such is not the case, however, for this year's Providence Bruins, whose season came to an end Saturday night at the hands of the Syracuse Crunch in Game 5 of the AHL's Eastern Conference Finals.
Not only did the P-Bruins overcome series deficits in each of their first two series to reach the East Finals for the first time since 2009, but also went on a run that allowed a large chunk of the roster to gain an invaluable amount of experience.
First-year AHLers such as Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Fitzgerald, Matt Grzelcyk, Danton Heinen, and Zach Senyshyn got a taste of how intense playoff hockey can be at the professional level and hope that someday it all pays off with Boston at the NHL level.
"The little things, just seeing how intense you have to be and how you have to ramp up your play come playoff time…I think a lot of guys on our team did that," said Grzelcyk. "It's something that's a lesson we can take forward, to come and go through those experiences with these guys. Hopefully it will go a long way moving forward."
That silver lining, though, does not lessen the disappointment of the P-Bruins' season coming to an end. Crunch forward Cory Conacher tallied the winner with just 5:06 remaining and added an empty-netter with 58 seconds to go to seal Syracuse's 3-1 win and a 4-1 series victory.
"These kids never quit once, you saw that in the Wilkes-Barre series, you saw it again in the Hershey series, you saw it tonight in the third period," said Providence head coach Kevin Dean, whose team never led in the series. "This team didn't quit for one second all year. I'm proud of them and they should be proud of themselves. There's a lot to be happy about."
Video: Providence eliminated from Calder Cup Playoffs
After allowing at least five goals in three of the first four games of the series, Providence shored up its defensive effort behind a strong performance from Malcolm Subban, who made 29 saves in his first start of the postseason.
"Terrific, really happy for him," said Dean. "Wish we could have gotten the win, but he came in and did a nice job in difficult circumstances. He hadn't played in probably five weeks and he handled it very well the whole time, he was very professional about it and came out tonight and played a really good game and gave us a chance to win."
The improved defensive play did not, however, stop the Crunch from striking first. For the fifth time in as many games, Syracuse grabbed the first goal when, just 41 seconds in, Ben Thomas ripped a slapper from the right faceoff dot that beat Subban and gave Syracuse a 1-0 lead.
But Subban kept the Crunch at bay for the rest of the period, despite a number of strong opportunities from Syracuse. The 23-year-old netminder made 13 stops in the first, including two stellar saves - one a sprawling post-to-post stop with his right pad and another on a Bryon Froese breakaway attempt late in the period.
"It was tough. I think that's the most I've sweat all year," said Subban. "They're a great team. We battled and we never quit the whole playoffs, the whole year. We're definitely proud - not satisfied - but we can't not be proud of our season."
Providence tied the game, 1-1, with 6:33 remaining in the second period. Ryan Fitzgerald, who potted his first professional goal in Game 3, caused havoc with a heavy forecheck in the corner to come up with the puck. He then found Chris Porter out front, where the winger deposited a backhander by Mike McKenna as he tumbled to the ice.
But that was all Providence could muster offensively as McKenna, much like he did all series, shut the door with 27 saves.
"Definitely proud of the guys and their effort," said Grzelcyk. "It's kind of tough to think about right now…it's pretty emotional with all the guys. It was a great year. I think it did take a toll on us, playing two great teams with Hershey and Wilkes-Barre [in the first two round]. But I think we just ran into a really good team."