For the fourth consecutive season, the Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride faced off in the Isobel Cup Playoffs. This year, the teams found each other squaring off in a semifinal game in Buffalo, with the Beauts coming out on top 4-0 after a strong showing by goaltender Shannon Szabados.
The Beauts went 2-for-5 on the power play and scored twice in each of the second and third periods en route to victory. They overpowered Boston and came out strong in the second period in particular, and ultimately came off with a huge semifinal win to advance.
After a scoreless first period, the Beauts finally got on the board thanks to one of their leading scorers, Maddie Elia. Elia, who has found a lot of success this season while playing on a line with Hayley Scamurra and Dani Cameranesi, opened the scoring more than halfway through the game, capitalizing on a loose puck and popping it into an open side of the net after goaltender Katie Burt fumbled it.
"After that, we got on a bit of a high," Elia said. "They went down and had a few chances but once we kind of settled down a bit, I think we got the momentum back."
Defender Emily Pfalzer doubled Buffalo's lead just a few minutes later. After Kaleigh Fratkin took down Taylor Accursi behind the Boston net, the Beauts headed to a power play. This time, they were able to capitalize, as Pfalzer picked up a feed from her teammate through the blue paint and shot it high over Burt.
Buffalo had several chances late in the second period, but misfired, and the score remained 2-0 entering the final frame. With 20 minutes to play until the Isobel Cup Final, the Beauts didn’t let up – but neither did Boston. Szabados made a slew of impressive saves early in the period to keep the Pride off the board.
"I thought the first two periods especially was some of the best hockey we've played all year. It was fun to be a part of," Szabados said after the win.
Emily Janiga made it a 3-0 game more than halfway through the period. Burt came out to challenge the skater and went down, leaving Janiga a wide-open net to capitalize on. Dani Cameranesi scored Buffalo’s fourth goal of the night with 3:35 remaining in regulation. Cameranesi also notched two assists en route to an impressive three-point performance.
"I think there's a lot of excitement right," Cameranesi said. "We put together a great game and one of the big things is, we finally cashed in some special teams, which we've kinda been snakebitten on a bit. We still really have to work and hopefully achieve our final goal."
Szabados made 31 saves for the shutout victory, the first in Beauts’ playoff history.
"I think it’s really easy for the rest of us to play well when we have her [Szabados] behind us in net," Cameranesi added. "Both of our goalies, when they're on, it's pretty easy to get things going on in the offensive zone because we know we have them as our last resort."
Aside from Cameranesi’s three-point effort, both Pfalzer (1G, 1A) and Scamurra (2A) had two points. Cameranesi registered a team-high eight shots on goal, while Scamurra, Elia, and Pfalzer each registered six shots.
For the Pride, Haley Skarupa notched six shots on goal, while captain Jillian Dempsey and Amanda Pelkey each had four shots in the loss.
With Nicole Hensley sidelined by a flu, Julia DiTondo dressed as backup for the Beauts.
And yet again, the Beauts move on to the Isobel Cup Final. They're still awaiting their opponent, however. Sunday's other semifinal, which was scheduled to be held in Minnesota between the Minnesota Whitecaps and the Metropolitan Riveters, had to be postponed due to weather-related travel issues.
That threw a bit of a wrench into the NWHL's original plans – a semifinal in Minnesota, followed by a week off and then the Final in the home of the highest remaining seed (either Minnesota or Buffalo).
With that, the league announced Monday that the semifinal is now scheduled for Friday night, with the Isobel Cup Final to be played on Sunday, March 17 at 2:00 PM Eastern. Both games, regardless of who wins the semifinal, will be played at TRIA Rink in Minnesota.
Either way, we know one thing: the Beauts will be there, thanks to that 4-0 win over Boston last weekend. Although there was a chance Buffalo could have hosted a championship game, the NWHL said in a statement the Beauts "selflessly agreed" to scheduling the Final in Minnesota.
The league did not want to push everything back a week, as the Final would then have been on the same weekend as the Frozen Four. In addition, it would be unfair to ask players to extend the season an extra week, given that they all have other jobs, vacation plans, and other obligations, as well as the Women’s World Championships coming up in early April.
In other news & notes, the NWHL recently announced the finalists for three of its season-end awards: Goaltender of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, and Defender of the Year, as selected by a panel of 20 media members and broadcasters in cooperation with the Women's Hockey Media Association. The winners, along with the league's Most Valuable Player, will be announced soon.