The second semi-final is fast approaching and with it, crunch time for the New York Riveters and Buffalo Beauts. The two teams have developed a fierce rivalry this season as they battled over the number two seeding, and with it home ice advantage. The series was split 3 wins for each, but with Buffalo making the trip to the Riveters’ home in Newark, New York will be hoping the home ice will propel them to their first Isobel Cup Final.
#2 New York Riveters 8-7-3
Having finished at the bottom of the table and then being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season, not many would have thought that the Riveters would have achieved what they have this time around. However, here they are, with an 8-7-3 record, the second seed secured with games to spare and the only team to defeat the reigning champions, the Pride. Here is what they will need to do to be able to earn their spot in what would be their first final:
Get the puck from Kessel to Weber
Amanda Kessel has been instrumental to the team’s success, since her return from injury the Rivs’ record has been 4-2-1. Having recorded a point in every game she has played for the team, picking up 14 assists, she sure knows how to dish out those passes, and who better to pass to than Janine Weber. Weber leads the league with an accuracy of 24.4% (minimum of 15 SOG this season), resulting in 10 goals in the regular season. If these two can find each other on the ice, then the goals should flood in.
Give Katie a chance
The team has been blessed with the rising star that is Katie Fitzgerald. Two shutouts, a 0.900%+ save percentage and recipient of the Best Goaltender award just about sums up her season. However, that doesn’t mean you can leave her all alone to the business of making sure the puck stays out of the net. She bailed the team out several times, making 44 saves out of 46 in NY’s victory over Boston, not something that can be sustainable. However, keep those shots below the 30 mark, and then Fitzgerald will give the team a chance to claim the win for themselves.
Don’t fix what’s not broken
Last season and this season has been a building process for this team more than any others. The increase in offensive production and the tightening up of the defence, and it’s all coming together. With the likes of Janine Weber, Rebecca Russo and Tatiana Rafter lighting it up after finding their form this season as well as Kessel slotting perfectly into the line-up, it is all coming together at the right time. Their dramatic 3-2 win over Boston illustrated this progress perfectly. They’ve put the hard work in, now it’s time for it to pay dividends.
#3 Buffalo Beauts 6-10-1
For a team that was battling for the second seed, the Buffalo Beauts will just be glad they managed to avoid dropping all the way to the number four seeding. They hold the third seed, a familiar situation for them, starting the playoffs in the same position as they did last season. Last year they defeated the Whale in a shock 2-1 series comeback to get their spot in the inaugural final. This year, they will be hoping for similar fortunes. Having defeated NY seven out of the twelve times they met, they should be confident that they can do it. To pick up win number eight against the Rivs, here is what they will need to do:
Draw on previous playoff experience
Any hockey player will tell you that playoff hockey is a whole other experience, the intensity and pace is stepped up several levels at once. This is where the fact that Buffalo have been here before, come back against the Whale to proceed to the finals and play in that high pressure scenario will pay off. They know what to expect, and know that they can produce the results. New York on the other hand have played the least playoff hockey out of any team, just two games, with a record of 0-2-0. If Buffalo can draw on their history, they should be able to pull ahead.
Buffalo and New York lead the league in shots for and shots against, so the goalies are going to be in for a long night unless someone can stop the puck reaching the net. It just so happens that defence woman of the year, Megan Bozek, leads the league in blocked shots with 26. If she can keep that number ticking over, and inspire a few of her teammates to take a puck or two as well, they will be able to keep their shots against down to a reasonable number.
Continue as a team
Although there are stars on the Beauts roster (Steadman, Bozek, Darkangelo, Browne just to name a few), there aren’t many standout performers. The first Buffalo to appear in the league’s scoring table is own in 23rd. That isn’t to say the team doesn’t team have skill, it clearly does. However, this skill comes from utilizing all of the team, spreading the talent between all of the lines so that goals can come from any player in any situation. As long as each player continues to do their part in the greater Buffalo machine, they should be just fine.
This showdown is going to be a close one, there is no doubt about that. Who will come out on top? I don’t know, but I’m sure as hell going to be watching to find out!