Photo credit: Buffalo Beauts / Twitter
"Both teams are coming ready to play, to fight, and to win the Isobel Cup. We have to be ready for all 60 minutes."
That's what Buffalo Beauts defender Megan Bozek said ahead of Sunday's Isobel Cup Final, and it's exactly what the Beauts did as they seized the NWHL championship with a 3-2 win over the Boston Pride.
Beauts captain Emily Pfalzer said her team was excited for the rematch against Boston, and undoubtedly, the chance to avenge their Isobel Cup loss in the league's inaugural season.
Now, after a hard-fought sixty minutes of action on Sunday, the Beauts have earned the title of Isobel Cup Champions.
Beauts netminder Brianne McLaughlin was named MVP after her 60-save performance that backstopped Buffalo to the win. McLaughlin played lights-out with some huge saves in her last game, as she is now hanging up her skates and retiring from professional hockey.
The decision to put McLaughlin in for the championship game seemed to be an interesting one, considering the hot hand of Amanda Leveille, who was partly responsible for the Beauts' semifinal win and who has been impressive toward the end of the season. Leveille is the Beauts' future in goaltending, but with McLaughlin's last game on the horizon (as well as their tradition this season of alternating starts), it was the veteran's turn in the cage, and it ended up being the right move.
"I couldn't ask for anything more," McLaughlin said after the game.
Megan Bozek opened the scoring just 1:44 in with a powerful slap shot that hit the net behind Brittany Ott. Just under twelve minutes later, Emily Janiga made it 2-0 after picking up her own rebound in front of the net.
Buffalo went up 3-0 less than halfway through the second period on a goal by Corinne Buie, who picked up the puck and managed to skate around the Pride's Gigi Marvin with a burst of speed. Buie got Ott down and snuck it in under her to put the Beauts up by three. All three Beauts goals came on even-strength, with Ashley Vesci, Hayley Scamurra, and Bozek notching assists.
When it came down to it, only twenty minutes stood between the Beauts and the championship -- but it wasn't an easy twenty minutes. Boston has historically been a strong third-period team and Sunday's game was no different.
After Devon Skeats took a high-sticking penalty with just over five to play in regulation, the Pride ended McLaughlin's shutout bid on a power-play goal by Alex Carpenter. Brianna Decker and Kacey Bellamy notched the assists.
As the clock ran down, the Pride made it a one-goal game by the hands of Hilary Knight, who was parked in her office next to the left post and tapped it into an open cage. Only 4.2 seconds remained in regulation -- not enough time for Boston to complete the comeback.
"In between every period, it was, don't give them an inch," McLaughlin said.
With the win, the Beauts completed an impressive upset of the Pride. Although Boston went 16-1 in the regular season to Buffalo's 6-10-1 record, the playoffs were a whole new game. A single-elimination championship game really could go either way, and Sunday's game was a thrilling one.
Despite being badly outshot, Buffalo got Ott out of position and shook the Pride up, forcing them to make mistakes and mishandle the puck at times. The strong performance in net by McLaughlin sealed the deal for the Beauts.
McLaughlin isn't the only Buffalo player who is closing out her NWHL career with a championship. Harrison Browne has announced his decision to retire, along with teammate Ashley Vesci.
Right now, there can be a lot of questions regarding the NWHL and its future, including the third season sans National Team players who will be training for the Olympics (not to mention the National Team's current rift with USA Hockey).
But for the time being, the Beauts will savor their historic championship victory.