What do we make of the Bears first round series? Obviously a 1 vs 8 matchup makes it look like one team is drastically better than the other, but in the AHL that doesn't necessarily mean anything.
The Bears played in the East Division which featured no bad teams. Norfolk, the worst of the 5, finished just 2 points out of the playoffs with 79. Hershey played 34 of their 76 games against the East.
The Bruins played in the Atlantic, which included 2 teams that finished well out of the playoffs, Worcester and St. Johns. The Bruins played 38 of their 76 games against the Atlantic.
And that there is why you can't necessarily worry about playoff seeds. Teams don't play balanced schedules. The Bruins played Worcester 12 times. The Bears played Wilkes-Barre 12 times. Worcester finished 13th in the East, the Baby Pens finished 5th.
So don't worry too much about anything that has happened up until this point stat wise. Unfortunately that's the best way to compare the two teams outside of an extended regular season series. So the rest of this post is going to feature lots of stats and team comparisons. Some may end up being relevant, but others won't be.
Fact is, the Bears need 3 wins in their next 5 games to advance. Simple as that.
So....a look at the Bears/Bruins first round series: (If you don't care about stats or don't want to read a bunch of them...I would probably just skip to the bottom. It gets a little numbery from here on.)
The Hershey Bears and Providence Bruins faced off twice during the regular season with each team winning on home ice 3-2.
Both games saw the Bruins jump out to 2-0 leads before Hershey rallied to tie it. At Giant Center on March 30 the Bears managed to get the game winner in the 3rd period. And on April 12 at Dunkin Donuts Center the Bruins put an end to Hershey's comeback with their own goal in the 3rd.
The good for each team....Bruins leading scorer Jamie Tardif scored 3 goals in the 2 games while Hershey's Ryan Potulny and Nicholas Deschamps each tallied twice in the series.
The bad....Bears defenseman Cameron Schilling was on the ice for 4 of the Bruins 5 goals and Bruins defenseman Colby Cohen was on the ice for 4 of the Bears 5 goals.
Neither team got their power play going in those games with the Bears going a combined 1 for 8 and Providence 1 for 3.
Providence out shot the Bears both games 39-26 and 27-26 and in 4 of 6 periods. Surprisingly the Bears won the game where they were out shot worse and Providence won all 3 periods in that game when it came to shots.
What to make of this? Who knows. It's a very small sample size so it's hard to know if it means anything.
The most important position on the ice in any game takes on even more meaning in the playoffs. Teams can ride hot goaltenders the whole way to a championship if things go right. See Price, Carey...2007.
Both the Bears and Bruins are going to roll out rookie netminders as their #1's in this series.
Providence's Niklas Svedberg went 37-8-2 on the year with 4 shutouts. He had a 2.17 goals against average and a .925 save percentage to go with it.
Hershey's Philipp Grubauer went 15-9-2 with 2 shutouts. He had a 2.25 goals against average and a .917 save percentage.
Those numbers are very similar. Svedberg got better goal support from his team so his record is better, but the goalie measurables are very close.
Now the bad news Bears fans....Svedberg is 12-1 in March and April and has only had a per game goals against average over 3.00 1 time and a per game save percentage under .923 1 time in that stretch.
The good news...that 1 loss and the gaa over 3 and save percentage under .923 came against the Bears at Giant Center on the 30th of March.
Balanced is the word of the day for the Bears. They feature 11 skaters with double digit goals and none with 20 or more. 7 of those players have between 15 and 19 goals.
Balance is good in the playoffs as top lines are routinely shut down as space is harder to come by and defenses are ready to go.
The Bruins have balance as well with 10 double digit scorers, but only 3 of their players have more than 13 and 2 have 25+.
Obviously having the go to scorers is a good thing, but only if they are scoring.
Jamie Tardif leads the Bruins in goals with 30 but in his last 18 games (all of March and April) he has only tallied 4 goals. Unfortunately 3 of those came against the Bears.
The Bruins 2nd leading scorer, Craig Cunningham, has 25 goals. 2 in the last 3 games, but not a single point in the 7 games prior to that.
So their go-to scorers aren't scoring a lot of late.
The Bruins are riding a 9 game winning streak so obviously they are getting scoring somewhere, but Hershey's balance can rival anyone's.
Hard to say if balance or go-to guys are better in the playoffs. You have to have some balance, which both teams do, but having that one guy to look to to get a late goal is also nice. Hershey doesn't have that.
Another stat that is hard to really gauge. No matter how you look at it, the Bruins are better...statistically...then the Bears.
League rank the Bruins power play is 8th, Bears is 11th. Bruins penalty kill is 5th, Bears 10th.
Actual numbers...Bruins power play converts 18.5% of the time. Bears, 18%. Half a percentage point. Not much.
Bruins penalty kill is successful 85.7% of the the time. The Bears...84.2%. A little larger difference, but still close.
And as mentioned above, neither team did much in the 2 games against each other. Bears went 1 for 8 and Bruins 1 for 3.
The Bruins scored 1st 48 times during the regular season...they went 37-8-0-3 in those games. That was one of the top records in the league.
The Bears scored 1st 43 times and went 27-11-2-3. One of the worst records in the league.
When leading after 1 the Bruins are 29-3-0-1 and the Bears are 20-4-0-2.
Leading after 2...Bruins are 32-1-0-1...Bears 25-1-2-2.
Tied after 1, Bruins are 16-11-0-3 and Bears are 12-9-3-2.
Tied after 2 the Bruins are 14-7-0-4 and the Bears are 10-6-1-2.
All of those records are relatively close. Again, when looking at records it is hard because the level of competition is NOT the same.
Goals For and Against:
Overall the Bruins averaged 2.92 goals scored per game and 2.41 goals against.
The Bears scored 2.68 goals per game and allowed 2.58.
Eh. Just tells me that the Bears are used to close games and are ready for playoff hockey.
BUT...the following numbers I think do tell a story.
The Bruins outscored their opponents in the first period by 31 goals.
The Bears....6 goals.
The Bruins start fast and in many games, that holds up for them.
In the final 2 periods the Bruins outscored their opponents by 2 goals. The Bears...4 goals.
This just tells me that the Bruins start better than other teams, but don't have the killer instinct (or experience) in closing them out.
As I said above, regular season stats mean little. All we really know about these teams is what we have seen and what they did against each other.
Any Bears fan knows that this team is great when they play together and shoot and below average when they don't. Their problem is consistency. One period they are great...see 1st period, this past Sunday. The next period they are terrible....see 2nd period, this past Sunday.
I can't necessarily speak on the Bruins but it seems to me that a team that finishes #1 in the league would be due to better consistency.
My honest opinion...the Bears best is just as good as the Bruins best. They just have a harder time finding it.
The wild card in this entire series will be experience. The Bruins roster features 10 players who get regular minutes who are identified by the AHL as rookies.
We all know the Bears are old. They have veterans up and down the lineup that understand what it takes to win in the postseason.
Will that help them in the playoffs? Tim Leone doesn't think so. He has the Bears losing in 5 and says the best they can do is the Eastern Conference Finals.
Is that a fair pick? Absolutely. But as an optimist and Bears fan I would like to believe they can go further.
The Bears season stats and record are deceiving because this team is DRASTICALLY different now compared to early in the year. Zach Hamill, Garrett Stafford, Mathieau Beaudoin, and Kevin Marshall are gone. In their place are players like Casey Wellman, Chey Genoway, Peter LeBlanc, Nicholas Deschamps, Nate Schmidt, Michael Latta, and Dane Byers.
I would take any of those upgrades any day of the week.
I will believe in the Bears until their final game. I legitimately believe that that day could come in mid-June. But I wouldn't be surprised if it came next weekend.
The Bears are in the playoffs. Anything can happen now.
Just ask Ryan Potulny. Two years ago he played for the Eastern Conference's 7th seeded Binghamton Senators. They did ok. Winning a Calder Cup and everything.
Series starts tomorrow night.
LET'S GO BEARS!!!!!!!!