SEMI-FINAL 1: PRIDE ROLL INTO FINAL OVER WHALE
The Isobel Cup Semifinals were underway Thursday night as the defending champions Boston Pride hosted their New England rival, the Connecticut Whale. Despite an initial strong showing by the Whale in the first period, the Boston Pride commanded the game’s momentum for the majority of the game, ultimately trouncing the Whale 8-2 after 60 minutes of play. With this victory, the Pride became one stop closer to hoisting the coveted chalice once more.
Alex Carpenter on the forecheck. PHOTO BY Michelle Jay
As games between the Whale and Pride normally begin, both teams came out flying, and for the first ten minutes, the Connecticut offense seemed to dictate the pace of the game. In fact, it seemed that after the Pride’s first regular season loss against the Riveters last week, their nerves were still a bit rattled. However, this notion was quickly dispelled as Alex Carpenter drew first blood, shooting the puck from an awkward angle behind the net, which somehow found its way past Whale netminder Nicole Stock. At 15:06, Carpenter struck once more, this time with the help of a cross-ice pass from defenseman Blake Bolden.
At the beginning of the second period, the Whale again came out strong as they looked to get themselves on the scoresheet as quickly as possible. That being said, Carpenter’s hot hands continued to wreak havoc, as she made a deft pass to defenseman Lexi Bender in the slot, who went top shelf on Stock to put the Pride up by three. The Whale, who still seemed unphased and continued peppering shots at the Boston net, probably would have had scored at this point if it were not for Brittany Ott standing on her head. At 8:23, the Whale got their first break of the game, as Rachel Llanes was sent to the box for holding. The Whale wasted no time, cycling the puck effectively in the Boston end until Haley Skarupa sent a one-timer towards Ott, who gave up a juicy rebound that allowed Dana Trivigno to slide the puck past her. The Whale were seemingly back in the game.
Well, not if the Pride had something to say about it. Less than four minutes later in the Whale end, Carpenter made a beautiful cross-ice pass to Pride Co-Captain Brianna Decker, who was left completely undefended, allowing her to shoot the puck into a wide-open net. Two minutes later, the Whale defense suffered another lapse, as Meghan Duggan fed Jillian Dempsey on a breakaway opportunity to put the Pride up 5-1 at the end of the second period.
The Whale made one last push in the third period, as Kelli Stack went streaking down the right side of the ice and beat Ott to decrease the deficit to three goals. To the chagrin of the Whale, the Pride had some unfinished business, scoring three more times over the course of the period to put the nail in the coffin and send the Whale packing. The Pride were officially bound for the Isobel Cup Final in an effort to repeat as Champions.
After the game, Pride Co-Captain offered her thoughts on last night’s win. “The loss last weekend was tough and was welcome at the same time,” said Knight. “It put things in perspective for us and forced us to put together a full sixty minutes tonight. If we play like that, we are unstoppable.”
SEMI-FINAL 2: BEAUTS UPSET RIVETERS ON THE ROAD
The New York Riveters lost a heartbreaker on Friday in the first round of the 2016-17 Isobel Cup Playoffs, falling 4-2 to the visiting Buffalo Beauts at Barnabas Health Hockey House. The game was the second of two NWHL semifinals which have determined an Isobel Cup final matchup on Sunday, between the Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts.
After a ceremonial recognition of the two teams’ National Team athletes (with the support of their NWHL teammates), the starting lineups took the ice and things were underway. New York came out of the gate strong, winning the opening draw and breaking into the Buffalo zone forcing some early pressure on the Beauts. The teams battled hard at both ends of the ice, exchanging scoring chances; Buffalo’s Hayley Scamurra danced in on NWHL Best Goaltender Katie Fitzgerald and the Riveters’ Madison Packer and Alexa Gruschow teamed up to challenge Amanda Leveille. In every instance the netminders came up big, but it was a New York penalty late in the period that would begin to turn the tide.
Only 14 seconds into the Buffalo power play, Megan Bozek used her signature slapshot to find the back of the net and send the Beauts into the intermission ahead by one. Despite the score, it was Leveille who faced the bulk of the shots (11), and would continue to do so throughout the night.
Emily Janiga celebrates after a Beauts goal. PHOTO BY Troy Parla
Having drawn a penalty late in the first, the Riveters started the second period on the power play forcing Leveille, again, to make a series of sprawling saves to preserve the game for the Beauts. Buffalo answered with a goal from Emily Janiga, who converted on an errant New York breakout pass to put the visitors up by two as they returned to full strength. The energy swung to Buffalo.
But the moment didn’t last. A held whistle in the Riveters’ zone led to a scramble at the other end of the ice with nothing but bodies in front of Leveille. Amidst the chaos, Tatiana Rafter was able to shovel home the loose puck and put the Riveters on the scoreboard and back in contention.
By the end of the period, the Beauts had responded, and with helpers Scamurra and Lisa Chesson, Janiga converted yet again, roofing a shot to just beat Fitzgerald. Once again separated by two goals, the teams took to the locker rooms.
It is often said that two goal leads can be a dangerous thing and going into the third, the Riveters were looking to prove it.
The scoreboard following two periods reflected Buffalo’s fervent pace, but New York was far from finished. A mere 11 seconds into the third, Janine Weber brought the Riveters back to within one, following a faceoff win and drive down the left wing from Amanda Kessel and Miye D’Oench. The tally gave New York new life as they continued to pepper Leveille and her defense. Both Leveille and Fitzgerald were unwavering, until midway through the period, Bozek and Shiann Darkangelo found another gear and forced the puck into the Riveters’ zone to set up Scamurra for Buffalo’s fourth goal on the night.
In the closing minutes, the Riveters made a strong charge back throwing every puck to the net in an attempt to catch Leveille off balance, but each time the wiry netminder was up to the task. Down by two and in need of a spark, New York called a timeout and brought Fitzgerald to the bench. The extra attacker put the pressure on Buffalo, drawing a slashing call in the final minute of play and causing the Beauts to utilize their own time out to maintain composure. Despite a blueline blast from Courtney Burke and a scramble in front of Leveille, the Beauts would hang on for the win and earn a place in Sunday’s league championship game.
Without a doubt, the two netminders were the story of the night, each providing stability for the team in front of them and highly complimentary of one another.
“All of our shots on [Fitzgerald] were quality chances,” asserted Leveille. “We knew that coming in that she’s a fantastic goaltender; she won Goalie of the Year for good reasons and we knew that we had to get high quality shots on her.”
“We have such incredible goalies in this league,” said Fitzgerald. “Like Lev for instance; today [she] stood on her head – congrats to her.”
Kessel too sang high praises of the Buffalo goaltender, “Knowing [Leveille] very well, she’s done that a number of times when I’ve been on her team. I know what she can do and she played unbelievable. We easily could have had a lot more goals, she makes that first save really well and the team did a good job of clearing the rebounds.”
Looking forward, the Beauts are all too familiar with the circumstances surrounding a must-win game against the Pride after falling just short in last season’s final series to the very same foe. But Buffalo is looking to change the fate of last year’s matchup.
“I think they’re a really gritty team,” said Rafter of the Beauts. “They never stop; they never stop coming at you and they’ve got a lot of heart on that squad.”
“It comes down to one game,” Janiga said matter of factly. Sixty minutes, whoever wants it more it going to take the Cup home on Sunday.”
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