BY THE NUMBERSAs good as Charlotte’s offensive attack was this season, it was the defensive side of things that became the team’s bread and butter. The Checkers finished the regular season ranked second in the AHL in goals allowed, being edged out by Syracuse for the top spot by just two goals. They held opponents to two or fewer goals in 44 of their 76 games this season, logging a staggering 37-4-3 record in those instances. Perhaps the most impressive stat to come from Charlotte’s regular season is that the team went a perfect 38-0-0 when holding a lead through the first two periods, with their defense locking down and avoiding any late comebacks.
Providence’s strongest area was also their defensive play, as they clocked in at number six in the AHL’s goals-against rankings, and they stood firmly as the No. 1 ranked team in terms of shots allowed per game by a significant margin. That spelled good news for the Bruins, as 25 of their 38 wins on the season came in games in which they outshot their opponent. Providence ran through a strong defensive stretch late in the season, allowing two or fewer regulation goals in seven straight games before allowing at least four goals in four of their last six contests to wrap up the regular season.
WHO TO WATCHIn terms of bodies, the Checkers enter the playoffs with their blue line as thin as it’s been all season. With Roland McKeown out for an extended amount of time and Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean with Carolina at the moment, there are plenty of holes on defense for Charlotte, but the team has no shortage of skaters ready to step up. Trevor Carrick continues to be a workhorse for the Checkers and is coming off of a career year production-wise, one in which he tied for fifth among league defensemen in scoring. The Checkers also have a significant amount of postseason experience in Dan Renouf and Bobby Sanguinetti that they’ll surely look to lean on. The former – who set a career high in points this season – already has a Calder Cup on his resume, capturing one with Grand Rapids in 2017, while Sanguinetti – a former Olympian – helped push Utica to a finals appearance in 2015 and captured a championship last season in Switzerland.
Providence only had one defenseman finish the season amongst their top-10 scorers – Connor Clifton, who is currently in the NHL with Boston. There’s still plenty of noteworthy names on Providence’s back end, however. 31-year-old Kyle Cumiskey (3g, 15a) brings with him a sizeable amount of NHL experience, while 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen (4g, 10a) made the jump to North America this season – including making his NHL debut for Boston – and joins fellow first-round pick Jakub Zboril (4g, 15a) on the Providence blue line.
HEAD TO HEADThe defenses took center stage during the regular-season series between Charlotte and Providence, with each team surpassing the three-goal mark just once. As mentioned before, seven of the eight meetings were decided by just a single goal. Additionally, in seven of the eight contests the game-winning goal was scored in the third period.
In terms of individual performances, Carrick was the high mark for Charlotte with four points (2g, 2a) in seven games, while Zboril was Providence’s leader with three points (1g, 2a) through eight meetings.