ALL PHOTOS BY MICHAEL HETZEL
Less than 24 hours after the Buffalo Beauts suffered a tight 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Whitecaps - a game that was decided in the final two minutes - the two squads met again for their fourth and final meeting of the regular season. For the Beauts, the Dec. 30 contest was their "Superhero Day" game, and the fans were dressed accordingly throughout the HarborCenter. The first 500 youngsters each received a special Beauts superhero cape.
The Beauts earned a win over Minnesota for the first time with a decisive 4-0 victory after the Whitecaps had taken each of the first three meetings by one goal. Maddie Elia had a hand in all four goals, with two goals and two assists on the day.
"It's great," Beauts defender and USA gold medalist Emily Pfalzer described the feeling after her team's victory. "It's great to come out of this weekend with a win. I thought we had a great battle yesterday, and then to come out with the win today is a pretty good feeling."
Through the first eight minutes of the opening period Beauts goaltender Nicole Hensley had to make five solid stops from Whitecaps shooters down low. She needed to remain sharp all game long, as Whitecaps opportunities came repeatedly. By the time the first period came to a close, Hensley had to stop 15 shots as opposed to the five that her teammates put on the opposing net. She had turned aside all 33 shots sent her way by the game's conclusion.
With 3:02 remaining in the opening period Elia redirected a Pfalzer-fed puck from the top of the face-off circle past Whitecaps goaltender Amanda Leveille, giving the Beauts a 1-0 lead at the end of the first.
Both teams exchanged scoring chances throughout the first few minutes of play in the second period. Shortly thereafter though, Pfalzer jumped up into the rush and joined the attack. As a loose puck came out in front of the Minnesota net, she pounced on it and put it home past Leveille 3:15 into the frame. Elia picked up the primary assist with a secondary one going to Dani Cameranesi. It was Cameranesi's puck-carrying down low in Minnesota's end that ultimately led to the scoring opportunity as she chipped it out front.
With Elia fresh out of the penalty box later in the period, Buffalo captizaled with their first power-play goal of the game, as Hayley Scamurra flung a back-hander past Leveille at 11:47, who had made two saves just prior. The power-play tally was Scamurra's seventh goal of the season. The lone assist went to Elia - her third point of the afternoon.
Hensley's heroics continued throughout the second period. She continued to steal goals away from Whitecaps shooters. More than once her saves were of the head-shaking variety, and she stymied shooters right on the goal line.
"The team played really well today," Hensley told the media after the game. "It was a pleasure to be behind them. We played really good defensively. Great penalty-kills. Our power play was great today too, so it's really good teamwork."
Elia blasted a shot from the top of the face-off circle bn the power play, one-timing a pass from Cameranesi for her second tally of the day. Defender Lisa Chesson helped chip the puck around the back of the Minnesota net so that Cameranesi could make the pass out to Elia. Cameranesi and Chesson received assists on Elia's eighth of the season.
"It felt good," Chesson said about today's victory. "I think all of the previous three games we've outplayed them. We had our chances, but we couldn't bury them. It felt good to get a couple extra today."
The regular season series between the two teams ends with the Whitecaps getting the decisive margin of three wins to Buffalo's one.
"We played three really close games with them so far this year," Hensley said, "and the bounces haven't necessarily gone our way. Coming into this game I knew we had a great team in front of me, so I just knew to try and make whatever saves I can and a few that I'm not supposed to, and they'll do the rest."
Both teams’ next games will come against the red-hot Boston Pride, with the Beauts hosting the Pride at HarborCenter at 1:30 PM on Jan. 5 before the Whitecaps make the trip to Boston for a 7:30 PM ET tilt at Warrior Ice Arena on Jan. 12. Tickets are available at NWHL.zone/tickets.
Nate's Three Stars of the Game:
Third Star: Emily Pfalzer (Buffalo: one goal, one assist)
Second Star: Nicole Hensley (Buffalo: 33 saves, shutout)
First Star: Maddie Elia (Buffalo: two goals, two assists).