Playing their best wasn't always necessary. If they struggled out of the gate or had a mid game lull it didn't hurt them because they could easily make up for it.
Simply put...they didn't have to play their best hockey to win.
The 2012-13 version can't do that. If they don't play their best hockey, they will lose. Rarely this season did the Bears play a sub-par game and still come away with a win. From time to time it happened, and bad starts were a regular occurrence, but it wasn't common.
So when you get the best team in the league, point wise at least, you can't have lackluster performances.
The 2010-11 and 2011-12 Bears teams played the same style of hockey as the 08-09 and 09-10 teams did. But it didn't work as well because the personnel wasn't as good.
Two first round exits the last two years and we Bears fans are itching for a long playoff run. We were spoiled by the first 5 years of the Capitals affiliation (3 Cups, 1 2nd place) and we expect more.
They don't raise Conference Championship banners in Hershey. Or Division Championship. When you play for the Bears or root for them, you want one thing...the Calder Cup.
Much of this season I said that considering the lackluster finishes the past 2 years maybe it was time for a more defensive system that is generally a better performing system in the playoffs. The recent teams were built on speed and skill and didn't bring a lot of grit to the table...didn't have a lot of guys who would crash the net and get loose pucks and put them home.
You know...the ugly goals.
So this season saw the development of a new system in the organization. One that relies on solid play in the neutral zone and the Bears own zone and one that is designed to take advantage of opponent mistakes and capitalize on opportunities.
The Capitals have bought in and are as hot as any team in the NHL (outside of Pittsburgh and Chicago anyway). The Bears system is the same and it works just as well when they play it.
This is a system that was designed in the 'ugly' (or boring) hockey capital of the world...New Jersey. The Devils have been good for over a decade because their system is designed to win close games and get goals that require more effort than skill...although its also because of a certain hall of fame goalie.
That's what playoff hockey is all about. It isn't about the flashy goals guys score all through out the regular season. It's about the grinders picking up goals by crashing the net and getting the rebounds. And goalies coming up huge for their teammates.
Michael Neuvirth was a clutch playoff goalie. You could always count on him to make a huge save when you needed it. Philipp Grubauer has shown that same ability at times during the season. He struggled a bit more late in the year, but he made huge saves with regularity.
I think the goalie part of the equation is there. Defensively? They are solid. Sometimes they get caught in their own zone for a while, but so long as they keep the teams to the outside and don't let open guys stand in prime scoring locations they are fine. Unfortunately, they do tend to wander from their positional responsibilities from time to time and that gets them in trouble.
But overall I think the defense is good enough to make a run.
So the goalie is in place and the defense is adequate. What about the offense?
The moves made throughout the year have really changed how this team is built. They went from a team of grinders to having some more guys that weren't afraid to go to the net and get shots.
The question is, will this team take advantage of their chances when they get them? When the team is clicking and playing their style they are good. Just look at last Sunday...first period they came out shooting and scored a weak goal 16 seconds in. They finished the period with 15 shots and 2 goals.
When they had a look they were shooting and that leads to rebounds and deflections. THAT IS HOW YOU SCORE IN PLAYOFF HOCKEY.
Teams shut down the flashy scorers all the time. Even in 09-10 the Texas Stars shut down Alexandre Giroux in the first two games.
You have to be willing to go to the net and put pucks on goal.
The problem for this years Bears team is when they don't play their game they don't shoot. How many 2 on 1 or 3 on 1 opportunities did the Bears have this year where they passed it 1 (or 2) time too many and ended with no shot? Or they hold and hold, waiting for the pass or shot to open up and then its too late? Saw that happen on Sunday actually.
If you have an extra guy...put the puck on net and let the other guy crash for the rebound. Nothing bad can come from it. Even if he makes the save cleanly and smothers the rebound, you can still crash the net and disrupt his personal space.
If they play the right way this Bears offense is good enough, and balanced enough, to make a long run in the playoffs.
If they play the wrong way and pass on shots they will likely be golfing by the 2nd weekend in May.
My prediction...for this series...Bears in 4.
Hershey HAS TO split the game in Providence tonight and Sunday. If they don't then I honestly think they are done. I won't stop rooting or believing, but if they come back from Providence down 2 games to none they would have to win 3 straight against a team that would be riding an 11 game winning streak and hasn't lost 3 in a row ALL SEASON.
Tonight's game is as important as any. If the Bears win they put all the pressure on the Bruins headed into game 2.
Hershey needs to come out ready to play. They have been in playoff mode for the past couple weeks and have won 3 of their last 4. They need to make that 4 of 5.
Bears in 4. Enjoy the games.
Faceoff tonight is at 7:05...check it out on AHL Live or the radio. I will have Stuccio's call on my phone through the Bears app.
LET'S GO BEARS!!!!!
3 WINS TO ADVANCE.