PROVIDENCE — It didn’t take long after his Providence Bruins lost Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals 5-2 to Hershey and dropped the series four games to one for head coach Rob Murray to have a realistic view of the 2008-09 season.
“I think that in the long run we probably overachieved this season, considering the things that we went through just as far as our lineup all year long, we were very, very young, and I was very appreciative of the veteran leadership we had on this team,” said Murray in the aftermath of his team’s defeat today at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Murray singled out captain Jeremy Reich, Peter Schaefer, Johnny Boychuk and Martin St. Pierre for their leadership contributions to a team that featured as many as 10 first-year players on any given night. And led by those vets, you could tell throughout the night that the P-Bruins did not want the season to end. After sleepwalking through a first period that saw them get outshot, 13-3, but go to the dressing room with the match still scoreless, Providence gave the Bears everything it could muster.
“We were known all year for never quitting. It’s definitely hard when guys are fatigued mentally, especially for the young guys that aren’t experienced. … I think they did a very good job and it was the true character of our team to not quit,” said St. Pierre. “But obviously, we weren’t getting the bounces. But we finished strong.”
One of those bounces was a funny hope off the end glass that allowed Claude Giroux to tap the puck into an open net after Providence goaltender Tuukka Rask left the crease to try to make a play. Another funny flip of the puck eluded St. Pierre at the Hershey blue line on a Providence power play and allowed Chris Bourque to skate end-to-end for what proved to be the game-winning shorthanded goal with 6:46 elapsed in the third period.
But the funny bounces and final score and final series tally aren’t really what series like this is about. It’s mainly about developing talent for the NHL and gaining playoff experience. The P-Bruins accomplished both of those things. That might be why in the loser’s dressing room there were as many smiles as frowns. The players knew they gave it all they had.
“I think a lot of people didn’t expect us to go this far, but we believed in ourselves and showed that this young group of guys could play at a good level every night,” said Rask, who even allowed himself a slight smirk. “We should be proud of ourselves.”
Rask made 33 saves in what might have been his last AHL game. He’s penciled in right now to be the back-up to Tim Thomas in Boston. Among the prospects, Jeff Penner, Zach Hamill, Brad Marchand and Mikko Lehtonen all made strides to make them more formidable options for the parent club in the years to come. That doesn’t make it any less painful to lose for a veteran like Reich, but even he was able to embrace the success his club enjoyed.
“You go into the regular season, the first step is making the playoffs. We did that, and after that you try to win each round one at a time,” said Reich. “We knew we were going to have a young team coming in, but we knew we were going to be good and if we bought into the system and jelled as a team we’d have success. We did.”