The Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride will meet in Buffalo on Saturday to battle for a spot in the 2019 Isobel Cup Final. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m.
The Pride have only beaten the Beauts once this season. In fact, none of those games have been particularly close. The Beauts have soundly and comfortably beaten the Pride three of the four times the teams have met, and the Pride returned the favor once, on Nov. 17 in Boston.
Given that the Pride will be facing them again, a week after a tough shootout loss to the #4 seed Riveters, and on Buffalo’s ice, it’s easy to give the edge to the Beauts for this game. However, the Pride are 11-5-0 on the season while the Beauts are 11-4-1, which just goes to show how close these two teams really are.
Players to Watch
Boston has no shortage of high-octane scorers. While Gigi Marvin and Jillian Dempsey are tied for the most goals on the team with 10, Haley Skarupa leads the team in points with 18, which also puts her at third in the league. She notched a power play goal in last week’s loss to Minnesota and has been driving Boston’s offensive all season — expect to see more of that. She also has the third-most SOG in the league with 52, although she’s shooting at around 11.5%, which is significantly below the top of the table in that respect.
Rookie McKenna Brand is right behind Skarupa with one fewer assist, and 50 shots on goal. Another rookie, Denisa Krizova, has been on fire lately and is likely to continue to create chaos in the postseason. She’s shooting at 23%, which is the highest on the Pride, and has notched six goals and eight assists.
Maddie Elia and Hayley Scamurra are an unstoppable one-two punch of scoring for the Beauts, and have absolutely torn up the league this year. Elia leads the league in goals with 12, while Scamurra leads the league in points with 20. Even more impressive? Scamurra has scored 10 goals and Elia has 19 points. Scamurra scored the last-second tying goal to send the Beauts to overtime with the Riveters in their last regular-season game, and it’s a safe bet that she’s not going to slow down in the postseason. Elia is shooting at an insane 23%, the highest of any player with over 30 shots (she has 52).
Unfortunately, Elia also leads the league in penalties with 16, but spending time in the box certainly hasn’t slowed her down, and with Shannon Szabados likely in net for the Beauts, their penalty kill can handle a little work if it means maintaining the spark Elia brings to the table. Szabados boasts the second-best save percentage in the league at .934, only .001 off of her goalie partner Nicole Hensley’s .935, which means that managing to beat them will be as big of a task as stopping Elia and Scamurra on the other end of the ice.
The Beauts were handed quite an upset in their last regular-season game, blowing a lead and losing in a shootout to the Riveters in New Jersey. This brought an end to their seven-game win streak which dated back to the end of December. The Beauts can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes against a Pride team that’s shown their chops by scoring big this season, with the most goals-for (60) in the league. They’ll be leaning on their goaltender, whether it’s Shannon Szabados or Nicole Hensley, to help them weather the storm that is the Pride’s offense.
The Pride will need to stay out of the box if they want to be effective against the Beauts. Kaleigh Fratkin has 13 penalties this season, second behind only the Beauts’ Elia, but she also has seven assists, three of which were on the powerplay. Netminder Katie Burt has faced the most shots on goal of all NWHL goaltenders this year and has posted up a very respectable .920 SV%. After making a name for herself during the NWHL All-Star Game in Nashville, she’ll be hoping to build on her already-strong rookie campaign. She’ll need her teammates to help, though—by staying out of the box and blocking some more shots, since the Pride have blocked the least shots in the league so far.
These teams are so, so evenly matched. That being said, the Pride’s affinity for spending time in the box and losing momentum and the Beauts’ relentless offense, combined with Buffalo’s home-ice advantage and 3-1 series record, suggests to me that the Beauts will prevail. Regardless, this is going to be a fast, physical game with a lot of work for both goaltenders, and will definitely be a lot of fun to watch.