The Beauts closed out their home season with a fan appreciation night, but couldn’t close the deal against Connecticut, losing to the Whale 4-2 at Harborcenter Sunday evening.
Young guns Nicole Connery and Haley Skarupa (one goal apiece) carried the offensive play for Connecticut, along with Nicole Kosta. Kelli Stack scored a goal late to give the Whale insurance, and Shenae Lundberg made 23 saves in the win.
Megan Bozek and Emily Janiga pulled Buffalo within one goal on two different occasions, once in the first and again in the third. Still, it was a familiar sight for fans -- the offense dropped passes and missed high and wide, while the Whale capitalized on lapses in the Beauts’ defense, making the difference when it mattered most for the beleaguered fourth-place team. Brianne McLaughlin made 33 saves in her final home game of her NWHL career
“We didn't play a full 60 minutes,” defender Megan Bozek said of the effort. “If you keep on a team like that, that has speed... we have to keep up with them at some point, and when they beat us to those loose pucks and gather offensive positioning, we’re stuck scrambling.”
With this loss, the Beauts can no longer place higher than the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, as determined by points-percentage (points won divided by maximum points possible in team’s season). That means they will face either the as-yet-unbeaten Pride or the second-place Riveters, who earned home ice in the second league semi-final with a win Friday.
Buffalo proved to be a worthy underdog last season, upsetting Connecticut in a three-game semi-final and heading to the Isobel Cup. Brianne McLaughlin had a lot to do with that, as did the defense coming together at just the right time.
The Beauts of this season, however, have had to deal with a revolving door of roster issues; in fact, Sunday’s matchup may have been one of the few games with a full lineup on the ice. Instead of getting only a handful of players in the loop, it’s been trying to get an entire team on the same page, both in practice and during game day.
The result is a ton of line jumbles to try and improve chemistry, something that was evident Sunday with the energy line of Skeats-Kunichika-Browne dismantled (Kunichika centered Kelley Steadman and Shiann Darkangelo, while Browne and Skeats winged other lines).
Head coach Ric Seiling reverted to the old lineups toward the end of the game, but spoke to the difficulty of making things click post-game, indicating discussions will continue to take place amongst coaching staff and players in order to gear up for playoffs.
“It takes camaraderie to get there,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for, is… finding the right combinations.”
The Beauts will have to do it quick. With two games left in the season and Connecticut at their heels for third place, they will have to make it work with what they’ve got -- a lot of talented pieces that still have not yet made a whole.
They will attempt that against Boston Sunday afternoon. Puck drop is at 5:30 p.m. at Warrior Ice Arena.