The 5 seed Connecticut Whale won their first playoff game since 2016 on Friday night, which means they have swum their way to a meeting with the 23-1-0 Boston Pride in the Isobel Cup Semifinal. The semifinal begins on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Where to Watch
Since the other semifinal will be played at nearly the same time, this game will be on twitch.tv/nwhl2.
The Boston Pride dominated the season series with six wins which started with an 8-0 rout on Nov. 23. However, the next five games were much closer.
The game that most people will be talking about before Sunday’s semifinal is the second meeting of the season, which took place on Dec. 28. The Whale — or, more accurately, Brooke Wolejko — stymied the mighty Boston offense, limiting it to just a single goal in regulation. Wolejko made 56 saves to force the game into the shootout, where Tori Sullivan won it for the Pride.
The big challenge for the Whale in the season series was scoring goals. In six games, Connecticut buried just six pucks into Boston’s net. There is no way that one goal will be enough to beat the Pride on Sunday, so the Whale will need to recreate some of the magic that led to them piling up five goals on the Beauts on Friday night if they want to shock the world and topple the Pride.
Players to Watch
Emma Vlasic - Vlasic didn’t earn recognition as one of the three stars of the Whale’s 5-3 win over the Beauts, but her playmaking made a huge difference. She picked up three assists, including the primary assist on Hanna Beattie’s game-winning goal. She didn’t register a shot on goal during the game, which is surprising because it seemed like everyone on Connecticut was throwing rubber at Buffalo’s net.
Interestingly enough, Vlasic struggled on the faceoff dot against the Beauts, going 1-8. The Pride are the best team in the league on the dot and Vlasic was one of the most successful centers at faceoffs during the regular season, so that will be one skirmish to keep a close eye on.
Katelynn Russ - Russ made a huge impression in her NWHL playoff debut, scoring two goals and picking up an assist for a three-point night. If a game like that doesn’t do wonders for the confidence of a newcomer to the lineup, nothing else will.
She scored her second goal of the game on the power play thanks to a beautiful pass from veteran forward Janine Weber. Watch for Russ, Hanna Beattie, and Allie LaCombe to put a lot of shots on Boston’s net regardless of the angle or distance. Connecticut is going to take every shot they can get in this game.
Emily Fluke - The former Whale captain is the engine of the best “third line” in hockey, which makes her a player that is sure to give Connecticut headaches on Sunday afternoon. She scored two goals and picked up four assists in the regular season playing her former team and has a knack for earning her team power plays.
Jillian Dempsey - The NWHL’s co-MVP of the 2019-20 season is always a player to watch. Dempsey does it all for the Pride in all three zones. She leads by example with her work ethic and willingness to sacrifice her body or make a diving effort to make the big play.
Heading into Sunday’s game, Dempsey has scored seven points in eight NWHL playoff games. Of course, she also just scored 40 points in the regular season. The Whale will need to check her, McKenna Brand and Christina Putigna closely. Together, they are the most dangerous line in the NWHL.
The Pride are not only favorites to win Sunday’s Isobel Cup Semifinal, they are favorites to win it all next weekend. Boston is just too deep, too fast, and too dangerous for the Whale. Connecticut will need the performance of a lifetime from Wolejko or Sonjia Shelly and to find some greasy goals to advance to the Isobel Cup Final, but the odds are stacked against them.