Wolf Pack surge to Atlantic Division finals as Knoblauch rumors swirl

MISSISSAUGA, ON - NOVEMBER 27: Coach Kris Knoblauch of the Erie Otters gets an explanation of a call for the referee during OHL game action on November 27, 2015 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images)
MISSISSAUGA, ON - NOVEMBER 27: Coach Kris Knoblauch of the Erie Otters gets an explanation of a call for the referee during OHL game action on November 27, 2015 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images) /
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The first period of the series saw both teams play conservatively. Providence was finding its legs, having not played a game in two weeks after receiving a first-round bye, and Hartford had not played a game in a week following their two-game sweep of Springfield in the first round.

However, as the game wore on, the Wolf Pack imposed their physicality, which set the tone for the series. They blocked shots, controlled the neutral zone, and won board battles.
Offensively, they tested Bruins goaltender Brandon Bussi, who stood tall with ten first-period saves.

But Hartford broke the ice in the second, scoring the game’s only goal when Blake Hillman collected the puck at the Wolf Pack’s blueline and found Bobby Trivigno on the left side, who moved to the slot before banking it off a Bruins defender and into the net with 4:37 remaining, giving the Wolf Pack a 1-0 lead.

From there, Hartford focused on the defense, limiting Providence to 14 shots, with only five coming in the third period.
The 14 shots allowed were a franchise playoff low. It made Dylan Garand’s job easy as the rookie goaltender collected his first Calder Cup playoff shutout and his third consecutive victory.

Clear the defensive zone, attack the neutral zone, and repeat. That was the formula the Wolf Pack used to grind out a second consecutive victory on Rhode Island, pushing the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins to the brink of elimination.

After registering just 14 shots in game one, the Bruins fired and peppered Hartford goaltender Dylan Garand with 12 in the opening stanza. But Garand weathered the storm, keeping the game scoreless.

His teammates would reward their goaltender’s efforts by getting on the scoreboard in the second period.
After settling the puck at the point, Tim Gettinger fired a shot from the right side, which Brandon Bussi stopped, but the rebound found the stick of former Bruin Anton Blidh, who scored at the 6:17 mark, giving Hartford a 1-0 lead.

An Adam Clendening rifle doubled the Wolf Pack’s advantage three minutes later.
Both goals came from midseason trade acquisitions, a primary factor in Hartford’s season turnaround.

The Bruins struck for the first time in this series with 6:46 remaining in the second period, snapping their scoreless streak of 93:14.
Jonas Koppanen won a board battle along the right-wing side and fed Luke Toporowski in the slot, who beat Garand top-shelf, slicing Providence’s deficit in half.
The Bruins continuously pressed for the equalizer, but Garand was up to the task and finished with 29 saves to secure the victory, giving Hartford a commanding 2-0 series lead.

With an opportunity for a surprising second straight sweep, the raucous Hartford fans filled the XL Center. Although the Wolf Pack fed off their energy and rallied late, Providence did enough to hand Hartford their first loss in these Calder Cup playoffs.

The game looked headed for a third straight scoreless first period in the series before Providence delivered the icebreaker.

With Providence on the power play, Garand denied Connor Carrick’s in the slot, but Justin Brazeau scored on the rebound, giving the Bruins their first lead. Oskar Steen doubled the Providence advantage two minutes later.

With the Wolf Pack trying to run out the first-period clock, John Beecher won a battle along the wall and found Fabian Lysell by the hash marks. Then, Lysell found Josiah Didier; before the Bruins captain netted his first point of the series, his shot was redirected by Oskar Steen, beating the buzzer by .2 seconds, giving the Bruins a 2-0 lead.

The Wolf Pack began the second period with momentum as they controlled possession, but a Zac Jones penalty put the Bruins back on the Power Play. Providence pounced on the man advantage opportunity as Luke Toporowski beat Garand on a breakaway 14;00 into the frame, giving his team a three-goal lead.

Hartford got on the board with 25 seconds remaining in the stanza, as Jake Leschyshyn won an offensive zone faceoff and found Jones. Jones blasted a one-timer past Bussi, instilling life into the otherwise deflated Wolf Pack crowd.

The Wolf Pack cut their deficit to one when Anton Blidh won a footrace for the puck following a Hajek clear off the boards and blasted a shot that Bussi stopped, only for Tim Gettinger to tip home the second rebound effort, making it a 3-2 game. But the momentum was short-lived as Jack Achan converted on the breakaway, putting the Bruins back up by two.

A Lauri Pajuniemi redirection off a Tanner Fritz centering attempt pulled the Wolf Pack to within 4-3 with 6:26 remaining.  Pajuniemi appeared to have tied it a few minutes later when he tipped a shot in the slot, but Bussi stuck out his glove to preserve the Providence advantage.

Shortly after that, Brazeau and Vini Letteri scored empty net goals, sealing the Providence victory. It was onto game four.

After his first rough outing of the postseason in game three, Hartford goaltender Dylan Garand responded with a 32-save shutout as the Wolf Pack routed the top-seeded Providence Bruins, clinching the series victory.

Turner Elson gave the Wolf Pack the lead for good 3:40 into the contest.
Lauri Pajuniemi found Ryan Carpenter, who passed the puck to Elson in the slot. After several unsuccessful attempts, Elson poked the puck home for his fifth postseason goal.

Jake Leschyshyn made it 2-0 in the second period, pouncing on a rebound off a Tim Gettinger shot for his first Calder Cup playoff goal.

A few minutes later, Ty Emberson’s keep-in saw the puck find Jonny Brodzinski, whose shot was stopped by Brandon Bussi but perfectly positioned was Carpenter, whose blast made it 3-0.

With Providence in desperation mode, Bussi was pulled in favor of an extra attacker with about eight minutes remaining in the third period.  Still, Leschyshyn made them pay with an empty net goal, allowing the boisterous Wolf Pack faithful to kickstart the celebration on a second consecutive playoff upset.

With an assist on the play, Gettinger recorded his seventh point of the playoffs, tying Tanner Fritz for the team lead.

Overall, the Wolf Pack have had 21 skaters dress for at least one game during the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs, and 20 have recorded at least one point.
Hartford’s 23 goals are second in the league and best in the Eastern Conference. They also have the best goal differential at +14.

The Bruins peppered Garand throughout the final period, firing twelve shots on goal. Still, the rookie goaltender denied all twelve attempts to bookend the series with his second shutout, which leads the AHL.

Garand has been sensational. He only appeared in 32 of Hartford’s 72 regular season games as Louis Domingue’s backup, posting a dreadful .894 save percentage and a 3.01 Goals Against Average.

But before the Wolf Pack’s playoff run began, Domingue was recalled to be the Rangers’ third-string goaltender for their first-round series against the Devils.

As a result, Garand had the starter’s crease. Domingue rejoined Hartford following the Rangers’ 4-0 loss in game seven, but this is Garand’s net to lose.
The rookie is 5-1 with a league-leading .954 save% and a league-best 1.17 GAA. Most importantly, he’s rediscovered his confidence as the Wolf Pack gear up for the Hershey Bears in the Atlantic Divison Finals.