The bottleneck at the top of the Eastern Conference standings heading into this tilt saw Syracuse (TB) leading the pack with 79 points. Springfield was second with 76, while Providence was third with 75 points.
Providence set the pace in the early going. They were rewarded when a Justin Florek deflection pinballed past Curtis McElhinney nearly eight minutes into the opening period. The goal further energized the Bruins, and with nearly 9000 of their close personal friends in attendance, I wondered how this would affect Springfield's recent road woes.
The Falcons lineup, bearing only partial resemblance to any lineup cards from the first half of the season continued to battle. Making their Falcons debuts in this one were Matthew Ford (acquired mid-week from the Flyers) and Spencer Machacek (acquired from the Jets in exchange for Tomas Kubalik). Along with recent additions Nathan Moon, Scott Howes, Mike Banwell, Trent Vogelhuber and Bryan Helmer, Coach Brad Larsen has kept the team focused and more often than not, ready in all situations.
The Birds went down by two goals early in the middle frame when perpetual pest Chris Bourque scored his ninth AHL goal of the season. The play started in the neutral zone, with what I felt should have been a penalty on the Bruins Matt Bartkowski. He leveled Jonathan Audy-Marchessault along the boards, resulting in a two-on-one breakout for the B's. Bourque finished off the bang bang play when the took the pass from Torey Krug and tapped it home for the 2-0 lead.
C-Mac was excellent as he has been all season, rejecting several prime Providence scoring bids and keeping the Falcons within striking distance after 40 minutes.
Entering the final stanza, both teams played with a level of desperation to their games. The flow of play was fast, end to end and hard hitting. Midway through the period, Scott Howes and Alden Hirschfeld engaged in some post whistle shoving. When the tempers finally spilled over, it was time for an outstanding bout between Dalton Smith and Tyler Randell. Giving Randell credit, he absorbed some punishing blows by Smith and never lost his footing, eventually turning the tables and giving some back to Smitty.
As happens so often, this was the point where the Falcons upped the ante and were dominant throughout the final ten minutes of the game.
While the momentum shifted with Springfield, it wasn't until Captain Ryan Craig scored his 17th of the season with just under five minutes remaining. Providence netminder Niklas Svedberg who had been rock solid all night was finally beaten when the Falcons penetrated the Bruin defense and were able to sustain an attack. Trent Vogelhuber and Nathan Moon set up the captain nicely to close the Providence lead to 2-1.
Once the Falcons pulled McElhinney in favor of a sixth skater, their pressure was relentless. The Bruins, worn down at this late stage, could only defend by icing the puck three times in the final minute.
Nick Holden found Russell with time winding down. Breaking down the wing, Russ cut in and buried it just as he hit the point of no return, enabling the Falcons to tie the game and more importantly, gave them one point in the standings when it looked like they might come up empty.
Last Saturday night, I was at the DCU Center in Worcester and got to take in the Sharks vs. Providence game. Seeing the Bruins play their style against a club other than Springfield was a real eye opener. This team is very good and will be a force in the Eastern Conference come playoff time.
The Falcons return to The Nest tonight when they conclude the home and home with the Bruins. This one should be a dandy! Faceoff time is set for 7PM. The Falcons three in three wraps up on Sunday afternoon in Hartford when the Falcons meet the Whale at 3PM.