NWHL Playoff Recap: Beauts upset Whale, advance to Isobel Cup (Video)

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  1 2 3 TOTAL
Buffalo Beauts 1 1 2 4
Connecticut Whale 1 0 2 3
         
  SHOTS
  1 2 3 TOTAL
Buffalo Beauts 12 11 3 26
Connecticut Whale 8 10 9 27

By all accounts, the Buffalo Beauts came into the series against the Connecticut Whale as underdogs. In all six regular season meetings, the Whale defeated the Beauts. 

The fact Buffalo had managed to force a deciding Game 3 was surprising. The thought of them actually beating the Whale seemed impossible. But then again, in the playoffs a team’s season is born anew and anything can happen.

There were two big changes for both squads coming into Sunday’s game. 

The Whale decided to swap out netminder Jaimie Leonoff for Nicole Stock. Leonoff played in the first two games of the series earning a split decision. Stock had proven an excellent backup for Leonoff during the regular season with a 4-2-0 record and a .929 save percentage.

As for the Beauts, they decided to keep Brianne McLaughlin in net for the third in three nights. Buffalo’s Meghan Duggan – captain of the US women’s national team – made her playoff debut after missing the previous two games as she fulfilled her college coaching duties.

The return of Duggan was felt throughout both lineups. The forward is a beast on the ice. Attempting to knock her down will result in you falling to the ice as she steamrolls through you.

In the first period, the Whale had just completed the killing a penalty when Duggan gets the puck out to Megan Bozek at the point. The league’s hardest shot winner sent a blast past Stock to put the Beauts up 1-0.

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The Whale tied the game when Lindsay Grigg was stripped of the puck by Kelli Stack. Stack skates all the way to the front of the Buffalo net without being contested. She deked the puck before sliding it past McLaughlin.

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 In the final 20 seconds of the first, McLaughlin came up huge for the Beauts. She stopped a shot by Molly Engstrom as she was falling forward. Then she manages to sprawl out in her crease and deflect away the rebound that landed on Micaela Long’s stick.

The entire second period was back and forth. Buffalo was allowing the Whale to get several breakout passes from the top of the neutral zone.

McLaughlin hung in there for her team. At times she was so far out of her crease attempting to make plays on the puck. Once she turned the puck over to an on rushing Stack at least three feet away from the blue paint. Luckily for McLaughlin, Stack held on to the puck just a second too long and defenseman Kelly McDonald was able to poke it away.

The only goal of the period came in the final seconds on a strange play.

Kelly Babstock is in full control of the puck in the Buffalo offensive zone when she just stopped skating and stood straight up. Beauts captain, Emily Pfalzer, chipped the puck off Babstock’s stick and rushed up the ice. Pfalzer passes to Devon Skeats in front of the net who misses her shot, but Hailey Brown doesn’t on the rebound. With 1.3 seconds left Buffalo has the 2-1 lead.

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The broadcast speculated Babstock heard a whistle and that’s why she stopped playing. The whistle likely came from the stands.

The final 20 minutes of the game saw physicality and pressure ramp up for both squads, leading players to make mistakes they wouldn’t normally.

McLaughlin was the busier of the two goalies in the third. She continued to make stops as her teammates easily turned the puck over to the storming Whale.

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Babstock was looking for redemption after her mistake at the end of the second period. She found it less than six minutes into the third as she sped past the Buffalo defense. Babstock pulled up just quickly enough for McLaughlin to expose the five hole and wristed the puck in to tie the game.

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Connecticut continued to crash the Buffalo net and get into mini-scraps with the Beauts after the whistle. As has been the hallmark of many NWHL games throughout the season, the officiating continued to be incredibly inconsistent. 

With Long in the box for cross-checking, the Buffalo power play took the lead on a controversial goal. Kourtney Kunichika fired the puck on net from just below the faceoff dot. Devon Skeats appeared to deflect it in. Right away Connecticut goaltender Nicole Stock motioned it was a deflection off a high stick.

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Unfortunately for Connecticut, the NWHL doesn’t have the luxury of replay to overturn calls. If it goes in the net, and the officials didn’t see anything definitive, it is a goal. After the game, Skeats told Kate Cimini of Today’s Slapshot that the puck went in off her head, not a high stick.

Buffalo takes the 3-2 lead with 5:23 to go.

Paige Harrington is whistled for interference giving the man advantage to the Whale with 2:41 left. Less than a minute into the power play, Connecticut pulls Stock for the 6-on-4 advantage. 

Seconds after the extra attacker gets on, Bozek gets the puck at center ice and fired it into the empty net. The shorthanded goal seemingly puts the game out of reach for the Whale at 4-2.

But like that damned Moby Dick, the Whale keeps coming back.

With 43 seconds left on the clock, Brianne McLaughlin can’t catch up to Babstock as she circles the puck behind the back of the net and scores. 

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Unfortunately for the Whale, the harpoon from Bozek was too much to overcome.

The Beauts upset the No. 2 seed by a final score of 4-3. Buffalo now heads to New Jersey next weekend for the Isobel Cup against the No. 1 ranked Boston Pride.

The magnitude of Buffalo’s triumph over of the Whale is best captured in a quote from a fired up Beauts GM Linda Mroz. It was Tweeted out and has since been deleted … buuut we got a screencap before it was.

From our buddy Kate Cimini of Today’s Slapshot:

Stick-tap to @NWHLGifs

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