PHF Playoff Preview: Isobel Cup Final
Previewing the 2023 Isobel Cup Final between the Premier Hockey Federation's Minnesota Whitecaps & Toronto Six.
Shenzhen took two wins in three games against the visiting Toronto Furies this week, while the Calgary Inferno split with Les Canadiennes de Montréal to clinch home-ice advantage for the playoffs and the Markham Thunder swept the Worcester Blades.
The Furies took just 16 players to China, including 2017 first-round draft pick Krystin Capizzano, who is currently studying in California and made her professional debut as a replacement player. They were further hampered for the final game after defender Emma Greco injured her collarbone in game two and flew back to Toronto for surgery. While most of the absent Furies had other commitments that kept them from traveling, Jordan Hampton -- who returned to the ice on January 12 after a wrist injury suffered in October -- is out for the season after undergoing a second surgery. Despite the reduced roster of just nine forwards and five, then four, defenders, the Furies outshot Shenzhen in all three contests.
Noora Räty made 34 saves and Alex Carpenter scored a pair of goals as the Rays defeated Toronto 3-1 on Tuesday.
Sarah Nurse got the Furies on the board first at 1:08 of the second off a long pass from Anissa Gamble, who was making her return from injury. Carpenter then tied it up at 5:48, and Hannah Miller gave Shenzhen the lead 13 seconds later.
Carpenter netted a power-play marker at 1:42 of the third to round out the scoring.
The Rays were 1-for-6 with the extra attacker and perfect through five penalty kills.
Shea Tiley stopped 21 of 24 chances in the Furies crease.
Nurse tallied the lone goal and Elaine Chuli stonewalled many of her former teammates as Toronto won 1-0 on Thursday.
It took until halfway through the third period for either goalie to be beaten, but Nurse's highlight-worthy shorthanded effort secured the Furies' win.
Toronto was 0-for-3 on the power play but more than perfect on seven penalty kills.
Chuli turned away all 24 shots faced, while Räty made 36 saves on 37 chances.
Stephanie Anderson had a goal and an assist on Saturday as the Rays closed the series with a 5-2 win.
Shiann Darkangelo opened the scoring 13:01 into the game.
Anderson evened things up with a shorthanded tally at 5:25 of the second. Natalie Spooner restored Toronto's advantage at 13:25, but Madison Woo tied the game yet again less than two minutes later.
Shenzhen scored three unanswered goals in the third period, courtesy of Cayley Mercer at 8:39, Miller at 11:55, and an empty-netter by Melanie Jue with 1:39 remaining.
The Rays were 0-for-3 on the power play and killed off all four penalties.
Räty stopped 25 of 27 shots, while Chuli saved 20 of 24 pucks.
Shenzhen now has a two-week break, allowing Chinese players to celebrate the lunar new year with their families.
Brianna Decker notched a goal and two assists on Saturday as the Inferno clinched home-ice advantage for the playoffs with a 5-4 win over Montreal.
Calgary seemed to have the momentum early in the game, but Hilary Knight opened the scoring just past the midway mark of the first period, recovering a loose puck after Alex Rigsby made the initial save on a shot from Marie-Philip Poulin and tapping it into the open net. Ann-Sophie Bettez doubled the lead not two minutes later after Jill Saulnier rushed the puck up the wing.
The Inferno then regrouped to score three unanswered to close the period. Rebecca Leslie poked in a rebound to put her team on the board at 14:20. Teammate Brianna Decker tied it up at 17:13 on a tremendous shorthanded individual effort that ended with her sprawled on the ice, seemingly not realising she'd scored -- she carried the puck up ice, lost it, recovered, then backhanded it, facing backwards, as she was falling. Halli Krzyzaniak then made it 3-2 with just 27 seconds left, on a sharp-angle shot from the goal line.
Rebecca Johnston added another at 16:46 of the second, beating Geneviève Lacasse off a centering pass from Decker behind the goal line. Poulin narrowed the gap not a minute later -- the net was off its moorings before the puck crossed and the goal should've probably been called back, though Rigsby had knocked it off unimpeded.
After several flashy saves at both ends, Blayre Turnbull made it 5-3 with a hard shot from the slot at 14:00. Poulin narrowed the gap to one with 2:59 on the clock, then drew a penalty after backchecking Johnston on a breakaway. The Inferno withstood the late kill to secure the win and with it, the season series.
"Their best players were their best players, our best players were our best players," stated Montreal head coach Caroline Ouellette, who was pleased with her team's performance despite the loss. "For me, if I think about this game from a fan perspective, I think this was an incredible, exciting, playoff game. The intensity, the back-and-forth -- no one took a shift off."
Calgary was 1-for-5 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the kill.
Rigsby stopped 29 of 33 shots, while Lacasse turned away 20 of 25.
Emerance Maschmeyer earned a shutout and Poulin had two goals and an assist -- she was in on every Montreal goal this weekend -- as Les Canadiennes claimed Sunday's game, 3-0.
It marked the third week in a row that Montreal has rebounded from a tight Saturday loss with a statement win on the Sunday. Players and coaches are well aware, though, that if these two teams meet again this season, it will almost certainly be in the Clarkson Cup Final.
"That was kind of the message," Ouellette explained. "Next time we might see them, it might be a one-game deal, so we've got to be ready from puck drop in that first game."
Saulnier opened the scoring in the final minute of the first period, beating Rigsby five-hole on a soft backhand shot.
Poulin made it 2-0 from in close just 33 seconds into the middle frame, then rounded out the game with an empty netter from outside the zone at 18:11.
"It's a team that can score and can make beautiful plays, so defensively it felt good," said Karell Emard. "It felt good to be able to shut them down completely.
"They love to play offense, offense, and transition really fast, so when you shut them down in the neutral zone, they panic," she added, emphasizing the importance of taking away time and space. "We needed to show them that we have a D-zone now."
Les Canadiennes were 0-for-4 on the power play but perfect on their only penalty kill.
Maschmeyer turned away all 24 shots faced, while Rigsby stopped 33 of 35.
Defensive responsibility has been a major point of emphasis since Ouellette and Danièle Sauvageau took the helm, and it's not going unnoticed.
"It's quite nice that we're talking about it," admitted Maschmeyer. "It's easy to talk about offense, but unfortunately when we break down in the D-zone, that's when we let in goals. It's good that we're focusing on that, and it shows. We're still working on having that consistent 60 minutes of good D-zone when it comes, but it's gotten a lot better and I think we set the bar high this weekend, so we're going to have to keep that going forward."
Following the game, the Inferno had to spend an extra day in Montreal, courtesy of a 24-hour delay after their initial Sunday evening flight was cancelled.
Jamie Lee Rattray tallied her first CWHL hat trick and goaltender Elijah Milne-Price got her first win in her first career start on Saturday, as Markham toppled the Blades 7-1. It was the first game in nearly a full month for Worcester.
Demi Crossman gave the home side an early lead at 5:28 of the first, but Markham proceeded to score seven unanswered goals. Rattray tied things up with a power play marker at 8:51, ending the period 1-1.
Rattray scored on another power play less that four minutes into the second. Nicole Brown doubled the advantage at 15:11, and Jenna McParland made it 4-1 about a minute-and-a-half afterwards.
Five minutes into the third, Rattray out-muscled her defender to carry the puck from the boards to the slot and get a shot off, completing her hat trick. Jess Jones added a power-play goal two minutes later, and Laura Stacey scored in the very last second to punctuate the match.
The Thunder were 3-for-3 with the extra attacker and killed off their only penalty.
Milne-Price stopped 28 of 29 shots, while Mariah Fujimagari saved 46 of 53.
Victoria Bach followed it up with her own first professional hat trick in a five-point effort on Sunday as Markham grabbed a 9-3 win. Nicole Anderson scored both her first and second career goals for the Blades.
Bach got things started at the midway point of the opening period, then doubled up on the power play at 13:46 before Anderson got one back for Worcester, with 1:56 left in the frame.
Brown restored the two-goal gap at 6:37 of the second, but Megan Myers responded with a power-play marker less than a minute later. Markham then took control of the game with five goals in a five-minute span. Rattray made it 4-2 with a controversial goal at 12:19 and Bach earned her hat trick 41 seconds later, prompting the Blades to replace Lauren Dahm with Fujimagari. Jess Jones scored shorthanded 77 seconds after the swap, and Jocelyne Larocque followed that up 51 seconds later before Stacey rounded out the period at 17:22 to make it 8-2 after two.
Anderson netted her second of the afternoon at 9:48 of the third, and Larocque scored with 32 seconds on the clock to record the first multi-goal game of her CWHL career.
Markham was 1-for-7 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill.
Erica Howe made 28 saves on 31 chances in front of the Thunder net. Dahm turned away 24 of 29 shots through 33 minutes, while Fujimagari stopped 24 of 28 in relief.
(Photo credit: Shanna Martin-Book/CWHL)