A sold-out crowd at Waltham’s Bentley Arena Saturday night was ready to cheer the Pride in Game 2 of their Premier Hockey Federation semifinal series against the often-unlucky Minnesota Whitecaps. Though the Pride had dropped Thursday’s Game 1, the team and its fans thought things would return to normal.
The top-ranked Pride have the league’s best goaltender and scorer. The Whitecaps lost eight straight coming into the playoffs, and suffered a regular season full of adversity. The best-of-three series would swing back in the Pride’s favor, right?
It did not.
A 47-save performance from Whitecaps goalie Amanda Leveille and a stellar penalty kill gave fourth-seeded Minnesota the 4-1 victory over No. 1 Boston, ending the Pride’s bid for a third consecutive Isobel Cup championship.
In an improvement from Game 1, the Pride (19-6-1) jumped out to a dominating start, getting nine shots on goal in the first six minutes. On the tenth shot, Taylor Wenczkowski found the back of the net. Becca Gilmore fed the puck to Wenczkowski, who slapped it past Leveille for a 1-0 lead 6:19 into the game.
Seconds later, Liz Schepers appeared to tie the game for the Whitecaps (12-11-3), but Boston coach Paul Mara challenged the call. After a lengthy review, the goal was reversed, with referees saying Minnesota interfered with Corinne Schroeder (27 saves) by chipping away at the puck while the Boston goalie had it under a pad.
“We had great momentum,” said Mara. “I thought, ‘We’ve had a great penalty kill all year, we’re going to take the risk and challenge it,’ and we were successful.”
It wouldn’t be long before the Whitecaps did even the score. During the Pride’s first power play, Jonna Albers skated in on a breakaway to score a shorthanded tally at 8:05. It was the UNH product’s second shorthanded tally of the series and fourth goal overall.
Less than three minutes later, Minnesota took a 2-1 lead. At the 10:56 mark, former Northeastern forward Denisa Krizova passed through a crowded zone to Brittyn Fleming, who sent an angled shot past Schroeder.
Deja vu ruled the second period. Just like in Game 1, both teams engaged in back-and-forth play, but neither scored. During a late second-period power play, Loren Gabel, Boston’s leading scorer, had the Pride’s best opportunity of the period, but Minnesota’s Patti Marshall blocked the shot.
The Whitecaps’ defense succeeded in causing Boston’s usual exact shooting and passing to misfire.
“We didn’t want to give them a lot of 3-on-1s, because they capitalized on those when we played them in the regular season,” Leveille said.
Early in the third period, a neutral zone turnover by the Pride resulted in an unassisted goal by Sidney Morin, giving the Whitecaps a two-goal cushion. Down two goals with 16:56 to play, the Pride were awarded a power play off the ensuing faceoff when Fleming was whistled off for a trip. The Pride lodged three shots on the advantage, but Leveille and her defense denied them all.
After that third successful penalty kill, the Whitecaps’ intensity overpowered the Pride. Schepers found Natalie Snodgrass in the slot, allowing her to shoot the open side of Boston’s net to put Minnesota up 4-1 with 12:45 remaining.
As time ticked down, Leveille stopped five quality Pride shots in the closing 3:50, and Mara never found a chance to pull Schroeder for the extra skater.
A shocked Pride locker room was left wondering what could have been, but Mara was hopeful they could turn the disappointment into motivation for next season.
“We’re not used to losing,” said Mara. “You have to hate losing more than you enjoy winning to be successful. Our team feels that. Our team knows that. We’ll come back better and stronger because of it.”
Kat Cornetta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.