BostonBruins.com - If the Providence Bruins were going to be knocked out of the Calder Cup Playoffs, it was only fitting that they would find a way to battle right until the end.
On Wednesday night, the P-Bruins fell to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
They found themselves in a 5-0 hole, before David Warsofsky reduced the deficit to 5-1 with a shorthanded goal just 54 seconds before the end of the second period.
Ryan Spooner scored just 23 seconds into the third period, and Alexander Khokhlachev put up back-to-back goals to make it a one-goal game. His second score came on the power play at 9:55 into the final frame, assisted by Spooner. Providence led shots 13-3 in the third.
Their torrid comeback fell just short, falling to the Penguins 5-4. The P-Bruins had staved off elimination and forced a Game 7 with a 4-1 win over Wilkes-Barre on Monday night.
In their first-round series, they had won two straight elimination games to overcome a veteran Springfield Falcons team in five games and advance.
The Game 7 comeback wasn't unlike comebacks the big club has made before, but the ones by Boston were from a veteran group.
This Providence group boasted a young roster, full of mostly first and second year pros.
There will be disappointment, yes, but the fight they showed will not go unnoticed.
The P-Bruins were young, and inexperienced, and injury-riddled. They battled through the postseason, as they battled through the end of the regular season, when they pushed to make the Calder Cup Playoffs as the seventh seed, faced with injuries and adversity along the way.
In Game 7 against the Penguins, they were without regular Matt Fraser, sidelined by a broken foot, after playing with Boston for the final three games against Montreal; Justin Florek (lower body), who spent the first round with Boston, notching his first NHL playoff goal; Zach Trotman (finger); and Joe Morrow (upper body).
In the final months of the regular season, as they fought to make the playoffs, Providence was also hit by a bout of injuries.
During that time, Fraser missed several weeks with a knee injury, Morrow was sidelined since early February with a knee injury, Warsofsky was sidelined with a hand injury, Alexander Fallstrom missed two months with a shoulder injury, and Nick Johnson spent a month and a half out of the lineup with an upper body injury.
In late March, the P-Bruins lost first year pro Anthony Camara to an upper body injury for the season.
The laundry list is put forth as mainly a testament to what this team was still able to accomplish, led by coaches Bruce Cassidy and Kevin Dean, with Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney and the Bruins' brass invested in the process.
The injuries meant more minutes, and development, for the younger prospects like Khokhlachev.
Khokhlachev, along with Seth Griffith, Matt Lindblad, Chris Casto and Malcolm Subban, was playing in his first year of professional hockey. The transition is always tough for first year players, whether they're coming from college, juniors or overseas. The lifestyle is different; their play on the ice must be stronger, faster, and as a Bruin, they must develop their game in all three zones.
In contrast to a veteran Wilkes-Barre roster for Game 7, which had the likes of Chuck Kobasew, the P-Bruins had five of their top six playoff scorers all 23 years old or younger, with Spooner, Khokhlachev, Griffith, Warsofsky and Craig Cunningham. Lindblad, who centered Khokhlachev and Griffith, is 24.
Khokhlachev, Warsofsky, Cunnningham and Linblad all made their NHL debuts with Boston this season.
Providence's inexperience was matched against a Penguins team on Wednesday night that had taken them to seven games the year prior, and come out on top, after trailing the series 3-0.
It had actually been 364 days since that historic Game 7 win. Wilkes-Barre sent the P-Bruins home for the second consecutive season.
While this time it was in different fashion, the feeling of bitterness for those who played in the series last year - Spooner, Cunningham, Warsofsky, Tommy Cross, Niklas Svedberg and Bobby Robins - will still be strong.
But they can still be proud of their fight, and the young P-Bruins will gain valuable experience because of it.
Spooner entered the night at the top of the AHL in playoff scoring with five goals and eight assists for 13 points. He finished his postseason with 15 points in 12 games after putting up a goal and assist on Wednesday night.
Khokhlachev, meanwhile, had entered the night tied for second with seven goals and fives assists for 12 points. His back-to-back goals gave him nine goals and 14 points through 12 games in his first AHL posteason.
"Yeah, 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," first year pro Linblad had said back in March.
"They're a very coachable group and they buy into what a Boston Bruin looks like, and what they need to be," Cassidy said.
There is much these P-Bruins can learn from their second-round exit, and although it will sting, their development took major strides this season - and that's something they can take pride in.
“That’s what Boston wants, obviously. They want these younger players to play in meaningful games at this time of the year, and to be able to thrive in that environment," Cassidy told the Providence Journal's Mark Divver prior to the Game 7 defeat.
As those in Boston know well, the defeat will stay with them for a while. But it will be how they respond to and learn from the experience that will shape them down the road.
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