Only four teams in the league have scored fewer goals than the Providence Bruins, and all of them are in last place.
The Bruins have a winning record because of their defense. Problem is, Saturday night, they were playing a team with the best defense in the league. That left little margin for error.
When the errors did come, they came in waves. The Philadelphia Phantoms scored three goals in a 2:59 span of the second period, to break open what had been a scoreless game, and went on to a 4-0 victory at the First Union Center.
In that three minutes, Providence coach Bill Armstrong witnessed a complete meltdown by his defense. Instead of lulling the other team to sleep, they lulled themselves.
“We have to win with a team system and go out there and try to outwork clubs,” said Armstrong. “I don’t think our effort was top notch, and if you’re gonna be a club like we are, [we have] to be successful through work ethic.”
Phantoms coach John Stevens wasn’t as harsh on his opponent. Providence outshot the Phantoms 8-4 in the first period.
“They played well in the first period and caught us by surprise, and out-worked us to be honest,” said Stevens. “We regained our composure and got skating, and got some goals, and then some key saves where it could’ve gotten closer.”
The three-minute onslaught started when Vaclav Pletka wheeled out of the corner, and found Phantoms defenseman Brad Tiley sneaking in. No one picked him up, and Tiley re-directed a cross-ice pass into the net.
About two minutes later, again, no one cleared James Chalmers from the front of the net. John Slaney flipped it towards the cage, and Chalmers deflected it in for a 2-0 lead.
That prompted Armstrong to call timeout. He wanted his team to just stay close.
“We knew Philly was gonna come hard at some point,” said Armstrong. “They were all over us there.”
So much for that. It took just 56 more seconds for the Phantoms to score again. This time, it was Tomas Divisek who came out of the corner unmolested, and found a cutting Kirby Law. Law made a few moves towards the net, shot a backhander that Bruins goalie Andrew Raycroft stopped, but followed up the rebound into a wide open net.
“We were giving them way too much room to skate,” Stevens said. “In the second period, our ‘D’ closed things up and we had better pursuit on the puck, and they weren’t able to skate as much.”
The Bruins had trouble throughout the second period with letting Phantoms players have room along the boards.
“We didn’t get good pins, and that happens,” Armstrong said. “We didn’t weather the storm very well.
“You can’t go out and give up three in the second period, and expect to score four in the third. That’s not gonna happen against that club.”
Mike Watt added a goal in the third. There was little intrigue from there.
With under a minute remaining, Ivan Huml got involved in a scrap with Phantoms tough guy Francis Lessard. Tony Tuzzolino then jumped Lessard before getting decked himself. The skirmish ended relatively harmlessly, with four minutes in penalties to each team.
“That’s just part of hockey,” said Armstrong. “I’m not worried ‘[about what Lessard did] because my guy was right behind him, jumping him. That’s our team, we stick together.”
The Phantoms, who lead the league in winning percentage, outshot the Bruins 30-21, including 17-6 in the second period. Goalie Maxime Ouellet turned the tables on Raycroft, earning his first career shutout as a pro. Raycroft shut out the Phantoms and Ouellet, 2-0, in Providence earlier this season.
“It’s an 80-game season,” said Armstrong, ready to put this game behind him. “A lot of ups, a lot of downs. Worry about the next one.”
The next one is tonight at the Civic Center against Worcester.
NOTES: Providence is 1-5-1 all-time in Philadelphia during the regular season. … Phantoms captain Mark Greig, an all-star selection, is out another two weeks with a shoulder injury. … Former Providence forward Peter Vandermeer did not dress for the Phantoms.