By David F. Pendrys
NEWARK, NJ- A disputed penalty shot in the overtime was the decider in an epic clash between the NWHL’s Boston Pride and the Buffalo Beauts in game one of the Isobel Cup finals Friday night at Prudential Center’s Pavilion.
The play unfolded after Buffalo’s Harrison Browne appeared to collapse on the puck in the goal area as goalie Brianne McLaughlin was drawn out in a scrum to the right of the net. The question is whether a hand was used to cover the puck and where it was located at the time, nonetheless the ref awarded a penalty shot. Hilary Knight was on the ice and she took it, beating McLaughlin for the 4-3 game winner.
Prior to that the two teams had engaged in a back and forth affair. In period 1, the Beauts forecheck responded admirably keeping the Pride from developing plays and earning numerous scoring attempts of their own. Boston’s penchant for being an offensive juggernaut was held at bay, though Boston also held the Beauts off the board. When Buffalo’s defense did allow opportunities McLaughlin did a great job stopping the Boston tries.
In period 2, the tide turned Boston’s way as Buffalo was more reactive and the Pride more on the attack. Brianna Decker was sitting in the box for a penalty she picked up at the end of the first. The gold and black held off Buffalo until her emergence. In fact the puck came to her and she broke in on net, but McLaughlin made the save. Blake Bolden however was ready and knocked the rebound over the keeper for a 1-0 lead.
Jillian Dempsey went off on a penalty, but the Beauts advantage was negated when Browne went into the box as well. With four on four underway moments later Gigi Marvin teed up a shot from the point and rocketed it past McLaughlin for a 2-0 lead. Marvin has hit a goal from the back of the zone in two successive games.
Buffalo would respond during a furious sequence in the Boston zone where the Beauts kept up the effort thanks in part to Emily Pfalzer’s extreme hustle got the puck to Shelby Bram who got it past Boston’s Brittany Ott with a nice shot.
The period would end with the Pride up 2-1 though considering how things had been going Buffalo emerged in relatively good shape and the Bram goal was a huge momentum shift getting the many Buffalo fans back into the game and renewing life. The shot differential of 19 to 14 in favor of the Pride also showed Buffalo was keeping pace as Boston can put up a lot of shots.
In period 3, Pfalzer shot it over Ott to tie the game up at 2. The Beauts regained whatever they had been doing in the first period and the game evened out. McLaughlin also made a critical pair of saves on a streaking Knight to keep the game at 2-2. Boston put themselves in a hole when called for two penalties in rapid succession as both Zoe Hickel and Kacey Bellamy went to the box for fairly obvious infractions. Boston survived the 5 on 3 sequence but with 14 left in Bellamy’s penalty Buffalo’s Kelley Steadman got her chance and put it into the net to take the lead 3-2. Steadman had been all over the ice throughout the day continuing her great season.
Just as Boston created a problem for themselves with penalties, Buffalo would do the same when Megan Bozek was called for delay of game. This gave the Pride a chance and Hilary Knight took it getting it past Steadman during chaos in front of the net to tie it.
Both goaltenders played well despite the result, as McLaughlin and Ott had to deal with plenty of challenges. Ott in fact also had to deal with some downright wacky shots at times. McLaughlin would end the day with 30 saves on 34 shots, giving up two even strength goals. Ott made 17 saves on 20 shots giving up two even strength goals as well.
The critical game two is tonight in Newark. If the Pride win, they are the first Isobel Cup champions. If the Beauts win, game three will be for it all on Sunday.
Post game pressers:
Boston Pride Coach Bobby Jay
Boston Pride’s Gigi Marvin
Boston Pride’s Brittany Ott and Hilary Knight
Buffalo Beauts players Emily Pfalzer, Brianne McLaughlin, and Kelley Steadman