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Fluke goal in overtime bounces Providence from the AHL playoffs

Journal Sports Writer

Hartford wins Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, 3-2, when a pass by Wolf Pack defenseman Terry Virtue deflects off the skate of Providence's Peter Ferraro and beats John Grahame.

HARTFORD, Conn. -- There were a lot of unpredictable bounces of the puck throughout the American Hockey League's hotly contested Eastern Conference finals between the Providence Bruins and the Hartford Wolf Pack.

But none was more devastating or decisive than the fluke carom of the puck in Game 7, with the puck sliding into the Providence Bruins' cage at 7:32 of overtime last night and giving the Wolf Pack a 3-2 victory and a berth in the Calder Cup finals against Rochester.

Hartford's victory capped a remarkable comeback by the Wolf Pack, who trailed, 3-1, in the series.

"We won three games in a row; then they won three in a row. Then it came down to a Game 7. Then it came down to a third period. Then it came down to one shot in overtime. Their shot went in, ours didn't," said P-Bruins coach Peter Laviolette.

The sensational series ended when a crossing pass from former P-Bruins defenseman Terry Virtue bounced off the skate of Peter Ferraro and went past Providence goalie John Grahame.

In an instant, the crowd of 10,623 at the Hartford Civic Center was transformed into a howling mob while Wolf Pack players were jumping around and throwing sticks in wild jubilation at what they had accomplished.

Virtue was credited with his third goal of the series. A year ago, Virtue was part of Providence's wild ride to its first Calder Cup championship.

"He's a good player," said Laviolette. "He was a big part of it last year for us. That's why teams go after a player like Terry Virtue. He's a competitor. He's a winner, and he proved it tonight."

Landon Wilson gave the P-Bruins a 2-1 lead with a breakaway goal at 2:48 of the third period during a 4-on-4 situation. Wilson's first goal of the series came eight seconds after a great Grahame pad save on a 20-foot blast by Hartford's Jason Dawe from the top of the slot.

Providence nursed the lead until 9:47 of the period, when Hartford's Brad Smyth sent the crowd into a frenzy. A shot by P.J. Stock from the right boards deflected off Smyth's pants and got past past Grahame on his glove side, tying it at 2-2.

"You can get a million good chances and never have them go in. Then something like that happens," Smyth said of his goal.

Then came the frantic overtime, in which Providence outshot Hartford, 7-4. But things started going bad for the P-Bruins when defenseman Terry Hollinger broke his stick in his own zone. Hollinger pushed his man toward the boards but the puck trickled free to Hartford's Johan Witehall, who fired a shot that Grahame kicked out. The rebound came to Virtue in the right circle. Virtue tried to center the puck, but it went off Ferraro's skate and into the cage for the game-winner.

"That goal is right up there with winning the Calder Cup last year and playing my first shift in the NHL with Ray Bourque," said Virtue. "I knew I had plenty of time to make a pass. Sometimes you need a lucky bounce."

Ferraro, a former Wolf Pack player, had a hard time accepting what had happened.

"It was an unfortunate, fluky goal. It doesn't matter. They came out with the win," Ferraro said. "We had the momentum going in the overtime. We had good opportunities. I was shocked when the puck went in. The play happened so fast."

Grahame (35 saves) explained what happened from his viewpoint. "I saw Virtue jump down. I tried to play the shot and cut down the angle. He made a nice pass. When I saw him pass, I tried to turn and get something in front of the net, but it went in."

The loss, said Grahame, was tough to take. "It was a hard-fought series. When it's like that, you want to come out on top. The hard work and the pain that goes with it, you want to come out with something, and we come out with nothing."

Hartford controlled the first period, outshooting Providence, 15-7, and opened the scoring just 63 seconds in, on Smyth's first goal of the game.

Meanwhile, the P-Bruins could not sustain any offense and were bottled up in the neutral zone.

However, Providence owned the second period, peppering goalie J.F. Labbe (46 saves) with 21 shots -- five by Wilson -- while Grahame faced only eight.

Still, Labbe held Providence off until 12:20, when Eric Nickulas pushed the puck to Ferraro in the right circle. Ferraro wheeled down low, skated toward Labbe and snapped a shot that beat Labbe, tying it at 1-1.

2000 The Providence Journal Company

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