Bears Playoff Primer: The Best, Or Nothing

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Posted May 17, 2016

(via the Bears)

Face it, the Hershey Bears have not truly faced the Toronto Marlies this season. Yes, they played two regular season games — with the road team winning each time — early in the year. However, the current form of the AHL’s best team has not yet come before the Atlantic Division Champions from Pennsylvania.

In the first matchup, Ray Emery, fresh off signing a Professional Tryout Agreement earlier in the day, started in goal and allowed two goals and 25 shots. Dan Ellis began the night, but quickly lost the crease after three second period goals to tack on a deficit too large to overcome. Players not in the game included Toronto’s William Nylander, as well as Hershey’s Connor Carrick and Garrett Mitchell.

Two months later, the teams met at Ricoh Coliseum for a matchup more closely resembling the current rosters. The Bears shelled starter Garret Sparks for three goal on 11 shots in a little over half a game. Chris Brown and Carrick played in one of their final games in the Chocolate and White that day. Three days after this game, Carrick found himself packaged with Brooks Laich and a 2nd Round pick in the upcoming draft heading for Toronto for forward Daniel Winnik and a 5th Round pick.

TORONTO MARLIES

As anyone who watched the last two months of the Toronto Maple Leafs season might tell you, most of the Marlies roster has taken the nine minute car ride down Lake Shore Boulevard from Ricoh to the Air Canada Centre since the trade deadline.

Among the stars hoping to brighten the dismal outlook in Canada’s largest city are Nylander — son of one-time Capital Michael Nylander — and Nikita Soshnikov. If not for their stints with the NHL, both might be higher on the Marlies’ points race. Nylander is play-making and goal-scoring center while Soshikov poses those threats as well as the agitator factor.

Carrick took a liking to his new home; the Maple Leafs liked him so much, in fact, they only let him play five regular season games for the Marlies while holding onto him at the big club. Carrick leads the league in points (14) and is second in goals (six) to the eliminated Tyler Bertuzzi of Grand Rapids. Granted, half of those goals came in Game 3 against Bridgeport Sound in Round 1.

In the net, the Marlies have a good kind of problem: Two good, young goaltenders. Garret Sparks played one game for ECHL Orlando, 21 with the Marlies, then 17 in NHL Toronto, but do not expect to see him in net unless the Bears humiliate his stable-mate Antoine Bibeau. Sparks has not appeared in the playoffs since losing Game 1 to Albany. Bibeau played the remaining six of the series and gave head coach Sheldon Keefe enough reason to keep him there.

One player to watch on Toronto that is not seen as much of a threat on offense is Rich Clune. Clune made a name for himself as a fighter across the NHL and AHL, earning him two suspensions this season. In his ten fights this regular season, he twice was the only player to receive a fighting major in the altercation, including getting two game misconducts in a fight with Tanner Richard of Syracuse. Look for Liam O’Brien to size up the 5′ 10″ Toronto-native early on in the series.

HERSHEY BEARS

The similarities between Hershey and Toronto pretty much end with being two young, skilled teams that just went through seven games with defensive pests. Hershey outdueled Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Toronto survived the neutral zone trap of Albany.

Carter Camper and Jakub Vrana lead the Bears offense with nine points (four goals, five assists) each while Aaron Ness has six helpers to his name. AHL MVP Chris Bourque has yet to get going in these playoffs, but still has seven points (three goals, four assists). As for the offense, balance is the name of the game; every skater to dress for the Bears has tallied at least two points through 12 games.

The Bears power play could not get a lot done against either Wilkes-Barre or Portland. They mustered two extra-man goal on 20 tries against the Pirates while going a dismal 4/35 against the Penguins. Albany went 2/25 against Toronto while they were 7/36 on their extra-man. Four of those seven Marlies power play goals came in Game 4, a 7-2 victory.

If Hershey wants to play a physical series to counter Toronto’s waves of attack, they have the forces to do so. Liam O’Brien and Nathan Walker took plenty of punches from Tom Sestito and Will O’Neill while captain Garrett Mitchell dueled Steve Oleksy, a former Bears captain.

THE MATCHUP

Look for the special teams units to drive this matchup one way or the other. The game-winner may be scored at even strength, but the momentum will be generated by a good power play or penalty kill.

Both sides have NHL-worthy talent on the bench; the winning team must use such talent wisely.

SCHEDULE (home games for Hershey in BOLD)

With Disturbed/ Rob Zombie at GIANT Center on the 22nd and the Ringling Bros. Circus immediately afterward, the schedule for the Eastern Conference Finals will have to be a little weird. The Bears and Marlies will play a 2-3-1-1 format, with the Bears opening up at home due to arena availability.

Game 1 – Fri., May 20 – Toronto at Hershey, 7:00

Game 2 – Sat., May 21 – Toronto at Hershey, 7:00

Game 3 – Wed., May 25 – Hershey at Toronto, 7:30

Game 4 – Fri., May 27 – Hershey at Toronto, 7:30

*Game 5 – Sun., May 29 – Hershey at Toronto, 3:00

*Game 6 – Tue., May 31 – Toronto at Hershey, 7:00

*Game 7 – Thu., June 2 – Hershey at Toronto, 7:30

*if necessary… All times Eastern