P-Bruins Feeling Blue As Playoffs Approach
With less than three weeks remaining in the AHL’s regular season, the Providence Bruins are beginning to look ahead to the playoffs. However, if you ask their fans, they’d probably tell you that the P-Bruins have been looking ahead to the playoffs since Christmas. When Santa Claus made his trip around the world, the P-Bruins were the best team in the American Hockey League. Owners of a 20-6-3-2 record (45 points), Providence was off to its best start in the nine-year history of the franchise. Despite lacking the services of their top two goaltenders in Andrew Raycroft and Kay Whitmore, who were both playing in Boston in place of injured Byron Dafoe and John Grahame, the P-Bruins managed to dominate the first half of the AHL season. ECHL import Judd Lambert was stopping everything in sight, newly-signed Eric Manlow and Peter Vandermeer were leading the league in points and power play goals respectively, and a young defensive corps led by Nick Boynton and Jonathan Girard were limiting opponents to a league-low 24 shots a game. Three months later, the P-Bruins find themselves stumbling into the playoffs with a 30-27-10-4 record (74 points), good enough for third-place in the New England Division. Eight points behind second-place Hartford, the P-Bruins’ hopes of attaining home-ice advantage for the opening round of the playoffs are all but gone. What happened to this team in the span of the last three months is not a secret. The mystery is how such a grand collapse could happen to such a talented team. Indeed, the P-Bruins have had to deal with injuries, call-ups, and suspensions all year long. But such setbacks are dealt with on a yearly basis by all AHL clubs. For the most part, the P-Bruins have had a relatively healthy roster with few call-ups from the parent team in Beantown. In fact, the team has recently received such established AHLers as Andre Savage, Shawn Bates, and John Grahame from Boston, but have still struggled to produce wins. As disappointing as the P-Bruins’ season has become, there is some optimism as the playoffs approach. Along with Savage, Bates, and Grahame, the Providence roster sports many of the heroes from the record-setting 1999 Calder Cup team. Playoff MVP Peter Ferraro, grinders Jeremy Brown and Marquis Mathieu, and defensive stalwart Brandon Smith were intregal parts of the championship team that know how to win. Highly-touted rookies Lee Goren and Andrew Raycroft have spent time in Boston and have played extremely well while with Providence. The recently reassigned Ken Belanger brings some much-needed toughness, and the newly-acquired Kent Hulst, while not known for his scoring, is a character player with many years of post-season experience. While Providence fans have not had much to cheer about in the last few months, the potential for playoff success does exist. However, despite the talent-filled roster, it is doubtful that a team entering the playoffs in the midst of a second-half funk will go far in post-season play. The P-Bruins desperately need to finish the last three weeks of the season on a successful note. With six home games and only three road games remaining, the table is set for a strong finish.
Whether or not the P-Bruins accept the invitation for dinner is yet to be seen.
Boston general manager Mike O’Connell was not impressed with Grahame’s actions, saying “We’re not going to tolerate that kind of behavior. It’s not professional. He’s got to act professionally. He should know the ramifications. He knows what’s expected of him.” Grahame, as most hockey fans know, was suspended by Boston without pay earlier this season for breaking his ankle in a so-called “freak accident.” I am inclined to believe that this accident had something to do with alcohol. Why else would the Bruins act so harshly? In fact, following his most recent suspension, O’Connell voiced his opinion about Grahame’s problems this season, saying “It’s been a distraction. The first one in training camp, and now this. It’s not only hurting him, it’s hurting the team.” I am getting the impression that John Grahame’s days in the Bruins organization are numbered. Coming into the season, this guy had everything going for him. He had paid his dues in the minors, while winning a Calder Cup in the process. He was tabbed as Byron Dafoe’s backup before training camp this season, and was looked at as Boston’s goalie of the future. However, Grahame’s career has taken a turn for the worst this season, causing him to fall out of favor with the Bruins brass. Capturing another Calder Cup title might be the only way for Grahame to increase his market value. And make no bones about it. Barring injury, John Grahame will be coach Bill Armstrong’s goaltending choice come playoff time. Armstrong is a big fan of Grahame, and most certainly will want to give him a chance to avenge last season’s loss to Hartford in the Eastern Conference finals.
GRAHAME GOES CRACKERS: The P-Bruins will be without goaltender John Grahame for their two home games this weekend. The 25-year-old Denver native was suspended by the AHL for throwing the shaft of his goal stick into the stands after breaking it over the crossbar following a goal this past Sunday against Syracuse. According to the Providence Journal, the broken shaft nearly struck an 8-year-old boy. The boy’s father refused to press charges, but did note that Grahame did not issue an apology to the boy or the family. Apparently, the Bruins issued a formal apology in a press release.