PHOTO BY MICHAEL HETZEL
For the second season in a row, the Buffalo Beauts and the Boston Pride played one another in an NWHL semi-final matchup inside Buffalo's HarborCenter. It was also the fourth time in the 4-year history of the league that the two teams faced each other in postseason play.
Ultimately, the Beauts came away with the 4-0 victory and a berth in the Isobel Cup Final. The Beauts will face the winner of the Minnesota Whitecaps and Metropolitan Riveters showdown on Sunday. Depending on the outcome of that game, the Isobel Cup Final will be played in either Minnesota or Buffalo.
"I think there's a lot of excitement right now," said Buffalo forward Dani Cameranesi, who led with a goal and two assists. "We put together a great game tonight. One of the big things is that we finally cashed in on some special teams, which we've kind of been snakebitten on a little bit, so that helped. But we really still have to work, and hopefully achieve our final goal."
The Pride took a very early penalty as forward Amanda Pelkey chopped down Maddie Elia in the neutral zone just 15 seconds into the game. With the Beauts on the power play, Pride goalie Katie Burt turned aside all four shots that she faced while her team was shorthanded.
While the shot totals ended up being close by the end of the opening period - Buffalo with 12 as opposed to Boston's 10 - the Beauts narrowly missed some putting some pucks into the back of the net. Burt needed to be strong in goal, and there were multiple instances of Buffalo shots sailing just wide or within inches of going in. Burt's defense helped to clear pucks, as Lexi Bender, Alyssa Gagliardi, and Kaleigh Fratkin each blocked shots and steered others aside.
The second period started off with Boston controlling the bulk of the play, but would eventually belong to Buffalo.
The Pride kept the Beauts hemmed in their own zone for a sizable chunk of the first five minutes. Buffalo goalie Shannon Szabados needed to count on her defense as well at times, as Beauts' rookie blueliner Savannah Harmon broke up a two-on-one Boston break just over five minutes in.
The solid play of her teammates was something that was not overlooked by Buffalo's All-Star netminder.
"Pretty exciting," Szabados said about the Beauts performance. "I thought that the first two periods especially (were) some of the best hockey we've played all year. It was fun to be a part of."
The Beauts finally tallied the game's first goal with 9:28 remaining in the second. With a mad scramble in front of Burt, Elia pounced on a loose puck in the goal crease that none of the Boston players could get a hold of. Her linemate Cameranesi earned the assist on the goal.
"Obviously we knew with the home crowd it would be awesome to get the first goal," Elia said about the goal. "Get the adrenaline. After I put that in, I thought it was a good boost for our team, and kind of got us fired up and going again."
The Beauts would go back to the power play once more - their third of the game - when Fratkin was called for cross-checking with 5:57 remaining in the second. With one second left on the player advantage, Buffalo defender Pfalzer was left wide open to Burt's right. As the puck skidded across the front of the net, she quickly fired it home past Burt to put the Beauts up 2-0. Hayley Scamurra and Cameranesi would earn the assists on the goal.
Buffalo dominated in shots by the end of the second frame with a total of 31 as opposed to Boston's 15. The Pride managed to put on just five shots all period long.
The Beauts would make it 3-0 in the third period when Boston's Jillian Dempsey coughed up the puck inside her own blue line. The Beauts' Emily Janiga pounced on the puck and quickly went skating in on the Boston net. Burt endeavored to poke-check, but Janiga chipped it up over the committed goaltender. The goal was unassisted.
Buffalo went on to make it 4-0 with 3:35 left in the game. With Boston's Dana Trivigno in the box on a roughing infraction, Cameranesi parked herself in front of Burt. With multiple Beauts taking a stab at the puck, it eventually came to Cameranesi who fired it into the top of the net. Scamurra and Pfalzer earned the assists on the power play goal.
Szabados turned aside 31 shots to earn a shutout in her first NWHL playoff game. Her play in net was a major difference maker, especially as the game went into its later stages. Szabados and the rest of Beauts fed greatly off of the raucous Buffalo home crowd, and it culminated in victory.
The players openly spoke about the crowd's impact on the game, especially as the periods went along.
"It was amazing," Szabados said about the fans after the game. "Kind of picked up where they left off our last home regular season game. The atmosphere was incredible, so it definitely gave us that little boost."
Cameranesi added, "That was awesome! I think one of my favorite moments was we were in the locker room after the game, and we heard Shannon Szabados go out there (as the game's First Star) and I don't think I've ever heard the crowd so loud in here. It was really awesome and gave us a lot of energy."
Nate's Three Stars of the Game:
3rd Star: Maddie Elia, BUF (GWG)
2nd Star: Dani Cameranesi, BUF (1G, 2A)
1st Star: Shannon Szabados, BUF (31 saves, shutout)