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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

P-Bruins Commentary

Clownish conflict should be addressed
P-Bruins’ playoff itinerary jumbled by circus yet again

The Providence Bruins are engaged in at least a decently promising Calder Cup derby for the 11th consecutive season. For the seventh time in that stretch, and the fourth in the last five years, they have progressed beyond the opening round and tonight will commence the Atlantic Division Finals against the Worcester Sharks downtown at 7:05.

Afterwards, it will be time to slow down the playoff adrenaline just so the self-proclaimed “Greatest Show On Earth” can put in its annual appearance in the Ocean State this weekend. The Barnum and Bailey Circus have dibs on the Dunkin Donuts Center from Thursday through Sunday and, coincidentally, Worcester’s DCU Center is preoccupied with a Professional Bull Riders’ show.

Accordingly, Game 2 shall fall a week from tomorrow night in Worcester, eight protracted days after the series opener and away from the higher seed’s abode. Granted, the Bs will in turn be entitled to host Game 3 on Friday, May 8, but the disfigured slate is still egregious enough.

Game 7, if necessary, would be here on Thursday, May 14 –a mere eight days after Game 2 but a lengthy 16 nights after tonight.

Translation: if this best-of-seven card goes the distance, the Bruins and Sharks will have alternated venues on a game-by-game basis, a playoff practice only otherwise seen in Canadian major junior leagues, and will have crammed their latter six tussles into a space of nine nights as if it were the American League Championship Series (as in Red Sox and Rays, not to be confused with the Calder Cup Finals).

And all for the sake of temporarily accommodating big shoes, big noses, and big animals.

Furthermore, while tonight’s opener is being conducted, the Senior Spokespeople in Boston will finally be learning whom they are to pair up with for Round 2 of their playoff run. At least three NHL Eastern Conference semifinal games figure to be in the books by the time Bruins Buffs need to be concerned with any more AHL affairs.

Meanwhile, none of the league’s other second round matchups will begin until Friday, yet the Manitoba Moose and Grand Rapids Griffins will be engaged in Game 4 next Wednesday when Game 2 is conducted in Worcester.

All things considered, this year’s itinerary is about as disfigured as it’s ever been, but this is hardly a new trend in this particular AHL market.

Consider the following:

Twelve months ago, the regular season champion P-Bruins swept Manchester out of the division semis, then throttled their second round adversaries from Portland in the opening two games by an aggregate score of 11-1. The circus dropped in from April 30-May 4 and, out of courteous flexibly, the Providence-Portland series was the only one to follow the 2-3-2 format as the Dunk went iceless for 12 days.

Interestingly, the underdog Pirates happened to usurp command in the series by winning Games 3, 4, and 5 on their pond before they slammed the door here in Game 6 on May 9, but a minor detail.

When Barnum and Bailey arrived without fail for the first weekend of May 2007, the Baby Bs had already overthrown rival Hartford from the first round and subsequently split Games 1 and 2 of the following series with the first-place Monarchs at Verizon Wireless Arena. Game 3 had to wait six days –between May 2 and May 8- while temporary elephant stomping grounds gradually gave way to fresh ice again.

In 2005, a fourth-place Providence team upset Manchester in the first round, polishing off a six-game swing with a 3-1 triumph at home on April 30 and effectively linking them up with the Lowell Lock Monsters for the division playoff title. That string of scraps expectably began at Tsongas Arena, Lowell being the higher seed and all. But curiously, each of the first three games, not two, took place there.

Or, maybe not so curiously. The P-Bruins didn’t get to play before another favorable mass until May 13 that year, thirteen days and three games after their previous home date. Guess why?

In more distant years, the scheduling circumstances have been reasonably methodical. The standings and the long pre-planned start date for the playoffs have happened to work favorably. But lately, during the fruitful five-year coaching tenure of Scott Gordon and the smooth transition to his successor, Rob Murray, the Baby Bs have practically been tripped up by a trapeze year-in and year-out.

It is arguably a more testing wager to be this consistently reckonable in the minor leagues –where you are hard pressed to spot the same on-ice personality for three consecutive seasons- than it is in today’s NHL. Yet this is how a team is rewarded for its solidity?

The parent club, slightly more famously, is posed a similar test by the same entertainment institution. The circus always reserves the TD Banknorth Garden in the thick of October, forcing the Spoked-Bs to play the bulk of their first month of action in foreign time zones.

Frankly, that typically team-gelling experience pales in comparison to the adaptability the Spoked-Ps and select postseason adversaries must constantly exhibit while the rest of the AHL’s Elite Eight move along in an orderly, rationally paced 2-3-2 or 2-2-1-1-1 format.

One ought to think there is a better way to C-cut around this repetitive discord. And as any capstone hockey historian would know, the New York Rangers once moved their Stanley Cup Final home games to Toronto when the 1950 edition of the circus uncompromisingly happened into Madison Square Garden.

So, in light of the equally rigid trend for AHL buildings to draw shallower crowds until the climax of the playoffs, why not heighten the ticket scramble and make Schneider Arena the momentary venue?

I somehow suspect that suggestion won’t fly.

Better yet, just put your skates down and tell those literal clowns that the Dunk figures to be busy hosting the Greatest Sport On Earth this time of year. Surely, like most everybody else, Barnum and Bailey are contemplating more fiscally efficient travel anyway. It could be a win-win deal if they agreed to put in their Providence appearance, say, in late September, when they need only scurry up I-95 to get to Boston in October as usual.

Sorry circus supporters, but compared to your extravaganza of choice, this is a serious game.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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