It’s finally that time, playoff hockey, and there is nothing quite like it. The first puck drop for the first semi-final will be tomorrow at 7.30pm EST as the heavy Isobel Cup favourites, the Boston Pride, will face this years’ underdog, the Connecticut Whale. Here is what each team needs to do to make it to Sunday’s final.
#1 Boston Pride 16-1-0
A near flawless season for the Pride- near being the key word- as they suffered their first loss in over a year in their final regular season game to second seeds, the New York Riveters. That isn’t to say they aren’t still the massive favourites to retain last year’s title. They have played the Whale 12 times in their history, winning 11 of them. Here are their keys to the game:
Rely on the basics
You don’t go on such a winning streak as Boston did without being incredibly skilled at hockey. The team needs to make sure the loss to New York doesn’t fluster them, or make them feel like they need to do something fancy to clinch the win. They’ve grinded out many wins before; if they play calm patient hockey, the goals and the victory will follow.
Falling several goals behind can, understandably, make a team drop their heads and play lacklustre hockey, or worse play desperate hockey. Once the team feels the desperation of elimination, risky paces and odd man rushes will creep into the game and likely extend it. If the Pride do fall to the Whale- a team that has a tendency to come out the blocks with a flurry of goals, I’m sure, Bobby Jay (Boston’s coach), will bring up two games. The first was against the Rivs on the 4th of March where the Pride completed a heroic comeback after being 3-1 down midway through the second. However, this has nothing on the comeback that they completed against the Whale on the 24th February, where Connecticut had a 4-1 lead at one point, only to lose 5-4. In fact, giving up multiple goal leads has, embarrassingly, become a staple of the Whale’s hockey, so keeping a cool head and getting on with the business of scoring is vital.
Utilize key stars
The roster is absolutely stacked with Olympians, team USA members and rising stars. Brianna Decker and Alex Carpenter have been bringing offensive firepower to the O line all season- they lead the league in scoring. Along with the return of a healthy Hilary Knight, if these three can have a good game, the Pride will be near unstoppable.
#4 Connecticut Whale 5-12-1
It’s been a tough season for the Whale. After a decent start of 4-4-0, the team then went on a serious slump, winning just one of their last ten games. There is no doubt that they are the underdogs here, and a win would be the biggest upset the league will have ever seen. That’s not to say it can’t be done: here is how they could pull it off:
High quality shots
A Boston goalie may not have won goal tender of the year in the NWHL awards, but the stats don’t lie. Whether it’s Brittany Ott who led the league in shutouts with three this season, or Lauren Slebodnick who finished the season with a 0.942% there will be no easy shots. This means that peppering them with shots from the blue with no screen isn’t going to get much of a result. Goals are going to have to be earnt the dirty way: fighting for those rebounds, getting tips in front of the net and maybe the odd bounce here and there.
Play for the full the 60 minutes
The Whale scored 43% of their goals this season in the first period. They always hit the ice full pelt, and often are able to go up early on in the game. However, as has already been mentioned, they are the queens at letting teams comeback into the game. They gave up a 4-1 lead to Boston, but more embarrassingly gave up a 5-1 lead to the Rivs on the 19th February. Connecticut have the skill to beat these teams, they just need the stamina. If they can keep their penalty count low and pace themselves correctly, they will be in with a chance.
Tighten up the defence
This season 6 players hit the 10 goal mark, 3 of them being on the Connecticut roster. The Whale are great at scoring goals, but they themselves leak goals like a sieve. They “lead” the league in goals against, with 75- over twice the number that Boston conceded. If they are going to need to play heads up two way hockey, it’s clear who the threats on Boston’s roster are. If they can make sure that Alex Carpenter, Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight are hounded and not given an inch to make a play, the goals against should be significantly lower.
If both teams can focus on these points, then it should be an absolute cracker of a game. One thing is for certain, with the shortened playoff schedule meaning sudden death elimination, the intensity is going to be the highest we have ever seen. I’m excited, are you?
The hype. It's real.
The #IsobelCupPlayoffs are here.
— NWHL (@NWHL) March 15, 2017