PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The top team in the Atlantic Division matched up with the hottest team in the American Hockey League in a big-time tilt as the Providence Bruins hosted the red-hot Springfield Thunderbirds at Amica Mutual Pavilion. The Thunderbirds entered play on a franchise-best nine-game winning streak, while the Bruins have been no slouch with a five-game win streak. Thanks to a pair of goals from Chris Wagner and three points from Justin Brazeau, the Bruins put up six goals and 49 shots on their way to a 6-2 win. Joel Hofer made 43 saves in the loss; Brandon Bussi picked up the win with 22 saves.
The Bruins’ strategy in this game was simple: put anything and everything on the Thunderbirds’ goal and look for results. Providence put up a 2:1 margin in shots on goal with a 14-7 lead in the first period and struck with only 40 seconds to spare. Brazeau fired a centering pass through the crease to Wagner, who beat an outstretched Hofer for his 12th goal of the season to take a 1-0 lead into the intermission. The Bruins parlayed that momentum into a two-goal lead when Brazeau found a streaking Georgii Merkulov over the blue line. Providence’s hottest forward made no mistake by beating Hofer with a highlight-reel move. Merkulov extended his point streak to six games, earning himself his fourth straight multi-point game with a pair of assists. He has 12 points [7 G, 5 A] in his last six games.
PSA: Georgii Merkulov is VERY GOOD at hockey pic.twitter.com/ytM5QH9vOQ
— Providence Bruins (@AHLBruins) February 18, 2023
Springfield has been hot, with plenty of big wins to speak of, and they wouldn’t be held off the board forever as Matthew Peca took a pass in the right circle and beat Bussi for his fourth goal of the season. Peca has been a significant contributor to the Thunderbirds since returning from injury and clearing waivers. His goal extends his point streak to six games with 11 points [4 G, 7 A] in that span. Overall, he has 16 points in 13 games this season.
The floodgates opened for Providence after another strong youngster tallied in the second with Fabian Lysell’s 11th of the year. The puck dropped right to him in the slot for a quick shot by Hofer to extend the lead back to two. Lysell, perhaps overshadowed by the heroics of Merkulov, has not slouched and quietly parlayed a six-game point streak of his own with three goals and three assists in as many games. The Bruins continued their strong play into perhaps their best period. Eduards Tralmaks scored his second goal of the campaign early, and Marc McLaughlin and Wagner tallied goals just over a minute apart to open a 6-1 lead.
Keean Washkurak chipped in with a power-play goal for Springfield, but it wasn’t enough to mount a comeback, and the Bruins took a 6-2 decision for their sixth straight win. It’s another big win for the Bruins, who are undefeated in February and earned their 30th win of the year to open up a three-point lead on second place Hershey. Meanwhile, Springfield suffered their first loss in the span of a month but failed to overtake the idle Lehigh Valley Phantoms for fourth place; the two teams stand deadlocked for points. Providence takes on the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday at XL Center, while Springfield visits the Bridgeport Islanders as part of a heavy divisional slate. All eight teams go head-to-head in matchups in an early playoff preview night.
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