(Photo: Mike Hetzel)
With one week of regular season action left, the NWHL is already preparing for the Isobel Cup Playoffs. Final standings are set, and although point totals may change, it's confirmed that the Boston Pride are the regular-season champions after losing only one game all season.
For the fourth straight season, the Connecticut Whale finished last in the league, while the Buffalo Beauts' fourth-place finish marks the lowest they've finished in the standings in NWHL history.
Here are the NWHL standings:
- Boston Pride (23-1-0,46 points)
- Minnesota Whitecaps (15-5-2, 32 points)
- Metropolitan Riveters (9-10-3, 21 points)
- Buffalo Beauts (7-14-1, 15 points)
- Connecticut Whale (2-18-2, 6 points)
Pride vs. Whale
The Boston Pride showcased just why they're the best team in the NWHL (and the Connecticut Whale why they're the worst team) in their 3-0 decision on Saturday afternoon.
Connecticut was able to kill off an early penalty, but the Pride got on the board first just over eight minutes in. McKenna Brand capitalized on a backdoor pass and a rebound to the left of the netminder, putting Boston up 1-0.
Christina Putigna made it 2-0 later in the first period with a power-play tally. Putigna picked up a pass from Brand and put a blast on net, putting the puck in top-shelf on a shot that bounced off the post and crossbar.
Mary Parker added an empty-netter with just under two minutes to play.
Perhaps the most miraculous part of the game is that Boston did only get three goals; they outshot the Whale by an incredible 44-8 margin. Yes, you read that correctly: Connecticut has been credited with just eight shots on goal in 60 minutes of play. That might just be an NWHL record. (Historical data for all NWHL games is not available or accurate; some games do not have any shot totals recorded at all. For the games where shot data was recorded, there has never been fewer than eight shots by a team in a single game.)
Beauts vs. Whitecaps
The Minnesota Whitecaps outscored the Buffalo Beauts by a 15-4 margin in a pair of wins this past weekend.
Meghan Lorence opened the scoring less than three minutes in for Minnesota on Saturday. The puck ended up sitting just outside the goal crease, and Lorence was able to pounce on it with no Beauts defenders pressing her.
Kristin Lewicki, who has signed with Buffalo for the remainder of the season, tied the game with just over 11 minutes left in the first period. Taylor Accursi was poised for a good scoring chance, but elected to take the puck to the side and then executed a perfect backhand pass across the ice to Lewicki, who found an opening behind Amanda Leveille.
Meghan Pezon scores on a one-timer with about three minutes left in the opening frame to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead, as once again the Beauts failed to support their goaltender but still managed to keep the game close through forty minutes.
That wasn't the case, however, in the third period. The Whitecaps scored three times in the first 9:04 of the final frame, limited the Beauts' space and opportunities and played a strong twenty minutes for the win.
Jonna Curtis scored on a one-timer down low on the power-play early in the period, picking up a pass from Lorence to double her team's lead. Less than 90 seconds later, Pezon potted her second of the afternoon and capitalized on Hsu's left side.
Nina Rodgers added a goal several minutes later to further increase Minnesota's lead, and from there, it was a defensive effort for the Whitecaps to hold off Buffalo. Brooke White-Lancette also added a goal with under a minute to play in regulation, and Minnesota snapped up a 6-1 victory.
Once again, on Sunday, the Beauts failed to put together a 60-minute game, and it cost them. This time, they played a solid first period and held the Whitecaps to a 2-2 tie through twenty minutes, but a second-period collapse spelled doom in a 9-3 loss.
Allie Morse started in goal for Minnesota on Sunday after playing part of Saturday's game, during which Leveille got hit or run into multiple times by Beauts players. According to Morse, she found out on Thursday that she would be playing one of the weekend's games.
"I figured one [a start] was coming," Morse said. "Just after Lev getting trucked a bunch yesterday, and we need her come playoff time. We knew we were getting the split heading into the weekend. I wasn't really ready to go in yesterday [Saturday], but obviously, we don't need Lev getting trucked like that anymore, so a little self-preservation there."
For Buffalo, Neumann started in goal but was pulled after allowing five, with Tiffany Hsu coming in her relief.
Things started off great for Buffalo on Sunday; just 59 seconds in, Cassidy MacPherson scored her fourth goal of the season to open the game. But just as quickly, the Beauts gave up a bad goal on a wide-open side of the net, and Minnesota tied the game.
Although Buffalo was able to take a 2-1 lead on a point shot by Marie-Jo Pelletier, it didn't last very long. Amanda Boulier tied the game later in the first period on an innocent-looking shot from the faceoff circle to the left of Neumann; the puck found its way off the post and in.
Boulier scored her second of the game less than four minutes into the second, while Haylea Schmid made it 4-2 moments later. Both goals were scored top-shelf. Allie Thunstrom added another goal a short time later, which finally forced Neumann out of the net.
Kelsey Cline scored her first NWHL goal, while Thunstrom and Boulier also added additional goals in the second period. Boulier completed the hat trick, and the Whitecaps skated into the third period with a comfortable six-goal cushion.
"We picked it up, came back, scored a good handful of goals from some people that probably wanted to get some goals in heading into Connecticut next weekend, and then the Riveters for playoffs," Morse added.
Jonna Curtis (MIN) and Becki Bowering (BUF) scored in the third period in the 9-3 decision, while Morse made 17 saves.
For the Whitecaps, it's all about keeping it simple, according to Allie Thunstrom.
"[Saturday], we started out a little sloppy, but I think as the game went on, we began to focus more on making the simple plays, tape-to-tape passes and really focusing on our D-zone," Thunstrom said.
"We came out with a lot of energy and then continued it through the weekend, which has been a struggle for us," she added. "That second game isn't always kind, so I think that was one thing we tried to focus on. Win the races for the puck, make the simple plays and get pucks on net and good things will happen."
Pride vs. Riveters
The Boston Pride scored four goals in the first-period, then held on for the final forty minutes, en route to a 5-0 win over the Metropolitan Riveters on Sunday. The game was the Pride's regular-season finale.
Captain Jillian Dempsey opened the scoring on a 5-on-3 power play just over six minutes in, capitalizing on a rebound in front of the net and with Riveters netminder Dana Demartino down. Just 28 seconds later, Mary Parker doubled her team's lead on a shot from down low.
Parker scored her second goal of the game (and third of the weekend) later in the first period. A scramble in front of the net and great passing from the Pride led to the goal, which made it 3-0 with 8:08 to play in the opening frame.
Before the period was over, McKenna Brand made it 4-0 on a top-shelf shot off a pass from Dempsey. Carlee Toews added a goal late in the second period, and the Pride maintained the lead throughout the remainder of the game.
Lovisa Selander was credited with a 29-save shutout for the Pride; that's her second shutout of the season. Demartino made 31 saves on 36 shots faced.
The fourth-place Buffalo Beauts will host the fifth-place Connecticut Whale in a play-in game on Friday, March 6 at Northtown Center in Amherst, New York. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:15 PM Eastern.
The winner of that game will travel to visit the Boston Pride, who will host an Isobel Cup Semifinal on Sunday, March 8 at 2:30 PM Eastern at Warrior Ice Arena. Tickets are available at a cost of $25 to $35 here.
The Minnesota Whitecaps will host the Metropolitan Riveters in the other Isobel Cup Semifinal on Sunday, March 8 at 12:30 PM Central at TRIA Rink. Tickets are available here.
The Isobel Cup Final is expected to be played the following weekend.
Other News & Notes
- Buffalo's Sara Bustad received a one-game suspension as a result of her ejection (kicking) in the February 15th game. This was in addition to the automatic one-game suspension she received. She was unavailable for the Beauts on Saturday, February 22 but returned to the ice the following day.
- Several players have signed: Kristin Lewicki (BUF), Allie LaCombe (CT), Katelynn Russ (CT), Jayne Lewis (MET), and Zoe Zisis (MET). Haley Frade signed a PTO with the Riveters and will join them for the rest of the season.
- Injury updates: Kate Leary (MET), Bulbul Kartanbay (MET), and Jordan Brickner (CT) are all week-to-week with upper-body injuries. Buffalo's Mariah Fujimagari is sidelined with a lower-body injury but is expected to return to the lineup this coming weekend, per head coach Pete Perram.
The final weekend of the NWHL regular season sees four of five teams in action. The Beauts visit the Riveters on Saturday (6:30 PM Eastern) and Sunday (4:30 PM Eastern), while the Whale visit the Whitecaps Saturday (7:00 PM Central) and Sunday (1:00 PM Central).