It was Game 3 of a best-of-five playoff series against Hartford. The series was tied at 1-1. To lose that game would have meant the P-Bruins would be one game away from elimination, one game away from their 2014-15 season coming to an end.
And on top of that, Subban was making his first start of the series.
“It was a huge experience, coming in in the third game in a best-of-five — it’s a little nerve-racking, you know?” Subban said with a smile as the P-Bruins gathered for practice on Thursday at the Rhode Island Sports Center in North Smithfield, R.I.
Subban chose the right time to submit his best start of the season.
In a triple-overtime contest, which would stand as the longest game played in the franchise’s history, Subban made 46 stops on 47 shots to lead the P-Bruins to a 2-1 victory, leading them to a 2-1 lead in the series.
“If you lose that game, you’re facing elimination,” Subban said. “So I just tried to do my job and play as well as I could, and [I’m] happy about the win.”
Subban’s job has not been easy during the course of Providence’s first-round Calder Cup Playoff series with the Wolf Pack. Fellow goaltender Jeremy Smith’s job hasn’t been easy, either — goaltending has been the story of the series thus far. Three of the series’ four games have been one-goal affairs, and in each of those three, neither team has scored more than twice.
Essentially, the series has required each goaltender, on each team, to be nearly perfect each night, because one mistake has generally been the difference between winning and losing.
As such, it is fitting that the series is headed to Game 5, which will be played in Hartford on Friday, May 1 at 7 PM.
“The goaltending has been outstanding,” said P-Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy. “They got one more save than us the last game, and Game 3, we got one more than them. That’s the way it goes sometimes, and hopefully, we get a few more than them again on Friday.”
Cassidy has not yet announced whether it will be Subban or Smith who gets the call in net on Friday night, but either way, Subban is ready. He has been all season, whether it has been him or Smith who has shouldered the workload.
Cassidy saw as much in the most recent two games of this series, during which Subban has allowed just three goals in over 160 minutes.
“He’s been resilient in there, for sure — given us the chance to win both games,” Cassidy said. “That’s what you want out of your starting goaltender.”
Subban, in his second full professional season, was projected to be Providence’s starter in 2014-15 after serving as Niklas Svedberg’s backup last season. Smith, however, ended up getting a few more games (39) than Subban (35).
Cassidy likes an element of healthy competition within his roster, and so, too, does Subban. He said it has forced both him and Smith to be at their best each night, and it has prevented either of them from getting complacent.
“It’s obviously helped a lot, working together with him,” Subban said. “Just for us, we’re trying to do our best every night, and push each other — I think that’s absolutely helped a lot. It couldn’t have worked out better.”
The goaltending tandem did, after all, lead the P-Bruins to the playoffs, and it has them in the position to once again move on to the second round.
This season has not been easy for Subban. There have been highs, and there have been lows. There have been nights like the one he had at the Dunkin Donuts Center against the Wolf Pack this past weekend, and there have been nights like the one he had in St. Louis in late February, in his first NHL start with the big Bruins.
But overall, Subban is happy with the progress he has made in 2014-15. The Toronto native registered a 2.44 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage, numbers that are right on par with the ones he submitted last season. He has been at his best when he has needed to be at his best — in the playoffs. And perhaps most importantly, he knows that he can get even better as he looks ahead to next season.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot from last year,” he said. “I feel like I’m more poised in the net, more controlled, just more mature, and experience obviously helps a lot. So I feel like I’ve had a better year than last year, and I’m only getting better, and I feel like I’ve definitely improved a lot.”
Experience can serve him and his teammates particularly well on Friday night in Hartford. One year ago at this time, they faced elimination in Game 5 against Springfield, and they came away with a resounding 6-3 win.
Hopefully, Subban said, the fact that he and many of his teammates have been there and done that will come up big this year.
“We’re just trying to be ready,” he said. “It’s Game 5, and last year, we won the Game 5, so hopefully we can keep the routine going, I guess, and win [Friday].”