The National Women's Hockey League wrapped up its regular season this past weekend, with all five teams in action at least once. Playoff seeding was up for grabs, with three teams – the Minnesota Whitecaps, Boston Pride, and Buffalo Beauts – all striving for the top spot in the league.
At the end of the regular season, here are the final standings in the NWHL:
1. Minnesota Whitecaps (12-4-0, 24 points)
2. Buffalo Beauts (11-4-1, 23 points)
3. Boston Pride (11-5-0, 22 points)
4. Metropolitan Riveters (4-12-0, 8 points)
5. Connecticut Whale (2-12-2, 6 points)
At the end of the regular season, Maddie Elia held the league lead in goals scored (12), while Amanda Kessel's 15 assists were best. Hayley Scamurra led the league with 20 points, with Elia and Jonna Curtis (both 19) not far behind.
Beauts vs. Whale
To little surprise (sorry, Whale fans), the Beauts captured their seventh straight win and swept the season series against Connecticut with a 5-2 victory on Saturday evening. The Beauts showcased their playmaking skills and overpowered the Whale en route to the victory.
Just 2:39 in, Annika Zalewski put Buffalo on the board with a goal through Shenae Lundberg's glove side. Lundberg couldn't get a handle on the puck and it popped out and into the net. The Beauts then took a 2-0 lead late in the first period off a one-timer from Taylor Accursi, who was celebrating her 24th birthday.
Julianna Iafallo made it 3-0 with just nine seconds to play in the opening frame, scoring on the power play. Captain Corinne Buie scored off an odd-player rush to make it 4-0 late in the second period, taking advantage of several Whale players getting tangled up behind the play.
Former Whale Kelly Babstock then scored against her former team early in the third. Babstock pounced on a rebound on the doorstep, notching her team's fifth goal of the evening on a power play.
With 14:32 remaining, the Whale finally found the back of the net. Shannon Doyle stepped up from her position on the blue line and took a shot that went off the crossbar and in. Rachael Ade also added a goal for Connecticut, scoring off a rush more than halfway through the third.
Ultimately, the Whale found themselves in too deep a hole and were unable to complete the comeback.
Whitecaps vs. Pride
As can be expected between two of the top teams in the league, Saturday's matchup between the Whitecaps and Pride was a closely-battled contest. Despite the offensive power on both sides, it was a show of goaltending, with Amanda Leveille and Katie Burt both playing strong games to keep it scoreless heading into the third period.
Each team had plenty of power-play opportunities throughout the first and second periods, but neither was able to capitalize. The Pride had a goal in the first period that was disallowed due to the referees blowing the play dead.
Kendall Coyne Schofield broke the scoreless tie just 5:35 into the third period off a feed from a speeding Allie Thunstrom racing her way up the ice. But the Whitecaps would hold the lead for just a few minutes, as the Pride rallied back to tie it less than four minutes later.
With Thunstrom in the box on a holding call, Boston was finally able to capitalize on the advantage. Haley Skarupa scored the equalizer off a couple nice tic-tac-toe cross-ice passes from Lexi Bender and Alyssa Gagliardi.
Both goaltenders recorded impressive saves as the clock winded down, but Jonna Curtis registered the game-winning goal with just 1:25 to play in regulation. The Whitecaps broke out of the zone, and Kate Schipper led the play to get a shot off on Burt. Curtis had a shot of her own and then scored on the resulting rebound to give her team the victory.
Beauts vs. Riveters
A penalty-filled affair between the Beauts and Riveters took over sixty minutes of game action to find a result, with the Riveters coming out on top in a shootout. With that, they ended the Beauts' seven-game winning streak and helped set Buffalo as the second seed heading into playoffs.
The Beauts were riding the high of Saturday's win, with captain Corinne Buie put her team on the board just 22 seconds in, taking a shot from near the faceoff circle to Katie Fitzgerald's left side. They made it 2-0 early in the second, with Maddie Elia on the doorstep to pop in a rebound. Blake Bolden took an initial shot from the top of the circle, and Elia was right in front of Fitzgerald to capitalize on the deflection.
Buffalo had control of the game, but not for long. Just over a minute after Elia's goal, Amanda Kessel put the Riveters on the board. Madison Packer sent a shot in near the net, and Kessel was right in front to tap it in after it popped off Shannon Szabados' pad.
Packer would pot her own goal later in the second period to tie the game at two. With just over two minutes left in the period, Packer capitalized on a rebound after a shot from the point for the power-play goal.
Rebecca Russo put the Riveters ahead late in the third period, but Buffalo's Hayley Scamurra scored to tie the game with just 1:35 to play in regulation. With the extra skater barely off the bench, Scamurra got the puck off a cross-ice pass and took a sharp shot into the half-empty net from the right circle.
Both teams held on through the remainder of regulation and through five minutes of overtime, so the game went to a shootout. Maddie Elia had the lone goal for the Beauts in the shootout, while both Packer and Miye D'Oench scored to give the Riveters the extra point and fourth-place in the standings.
Whitecaps vs. Whale
The Whitecaps showed why they're the top team in the NWHL en route to a 4-1 victory over the Whale on Sunday. With that being said, the Whale did their best to keep Minnesota contained, kept them off the scoresheet on the player advantage, and saw stellar goaltending from Erin O'Neil in her NWHL debut.
The Whitecaps outshot the Whale 13-6 in the first period, finally getting a goal from Allie Thunstrom that came with just 5:20 to play. A faceoff just outside the blue line got the puck on the stick of Meaghan Pezon, who passed it over to Thunstrom to the left of O'Neil. Just seconds prior, new Whale player Vanessa Gagnon was helped off the ice after colliding with her teammate, Michelle Löwenhielm.
Connecticut had plenty of chances to tie it up, including three power-play opportunities in the first half of the second period. But it would be Minnesota taking a 2-0 lead off a goal by Lauren Barnes.
The Whale, however, did come back with a goal of their own with 3:57 to play in the second period. Emily Fluke and Katerina Mrázová were fighting for the puck behind the net with two Minnesota players; the puck popped loose, and Mrázová brought the puck around the left side of the net. She slid the puck through the crease to Fluke's waiting stick, and she was able to tuck it in high.
Barnes added another goal late in the second period. Kendall Coyne Schofield scored an empty-netter with just over a minute to play.
Three Stars of the Week
- Katie Fitzgerald (MET) - 40 saves
- Corinne Buie (BUF) - 2 goals
- Madison Packer (MET) - 1 goal, 1 assist
Isobel Cup Playoff Action
The Riveters and Whale will play Thursday night to determine who will make it to the Isobel Cup semifinals. The winner of that game will head to Minnesota to face the Whitecaps on Sunday, March 10 at 1:30 PM Central.
The Beauts will host the Pride on Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 PM Eastern in the other semifinal. Information about the Isobel Cup Final will come at a later date.