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2022 PHF Playoff Preview: Metropolitan Riveters vs. Minnesota Whitecaps

Get ready for the 4 v 5 match up!

Metropolitan Riveters forward Kendall Cornine and Minnesota Whitecaps forward Meghan Lorence in Lake Placid, NY on Jan 26, 2021.
Michelle Jay

The Minnesota Whitecaps and the Metropolitan Riveters will meet in the Isobel Cup quarterfinals to determine which team plays the Connecticut Whale or the Toronto Six, depending on the outcome of the other quarterfinal game between the Boston Pride and the Buffalo Beauts.

This is a much-anticipated matchup between two teams with an abundance of leadership that are both better than their regular season records may suggest. The puck drops on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Season series

The season series between the Riveters and Whitecaps was split evenly at 2–2. Excluding the empty-net goals, the Whitecaps had +6 edge in the even-strength goal differential in the series, but the Rivs had 5 power-play goals to the Whitecaps’ 2 and had the only shortie (Madison Packer) of the series. Interestingly enough, these teams were almost identical in terms of the success rate of their power play — 16.4% for Minnesota, 16.3% for the Rivs — and were in the same neighborhood in terms of their PK.

Every game of this regular-season series was pretty wild. On average, we saw 7.75 combined goals per game, but I won’t be surprised if Friday’s game is a little less Wild West and a little more structured. I think the Rivs want a slow, physical game where they control possession at even strength, and the Whitecaps want to open things up and let their speed put the Rivs on their heels.

Series stars

Audra Morrison

Morrison, a former Riveter, had goals in all four games of the regular season series. All told, she scored 5 of her 10 goals this season at the Riveters’ expense. Morrison had a slow start to the 2021-22 PHF season but was one of the most productive players in the league in the second half of the year. She’s a big game player who is back on top of her game, which makes her a player to watch in this one.

Allie Thunstrom

Well, surprise, surprise. Thunstrom was a dominant player in this series and had no shortage of scoring chances playing against the Rivs in all situations. She had 6 goals in the regular season series — which led all skaters — and averaged 6.25 SOG/GP against the Rivs. That’s a menacing number that Riveters head coach Ivo Mocek likely has on his mind this week. Thunstrom is going to get her shots. It’s up to the Rivs’ defense and forwards to do everything they can to make sure they are from less dangerous areas.

Kristen Barbara

The veteran defender capped off her standout season by scoring her lone goal of the year against the Whitecaps in the Rivs’ season finale on March 13. Before that, Barbara had 5 assists on the power play against Minnesota — if that isn’t a reason to keep a close eye on her if/when the Rivs go on the advantage, I don’t know what is. She finished the season series with 7 points (half of her total production in 2021–22) and made countless solid plays in her own zone.

“I’m very fortunate I get to play with Barbs, she’s so much fun to play with,” Kiira Dosdall-Arena told The Ice Garden. “She’s super creative — one of the most creative defensemen I’ve ever played with — and that creates opportunities for her. Offensively, she sees plays that not everyone sees and makes things happen and does it quietly ... she’s a great player who makes a lot happen.”

The Rivs are going to need a big game out of Barbara in all three zones to come out of Friday with a W.

Kelly Babstock

Babstock, a former All-Star, had a quiet year by her standards, but a few of her best games were played against Minnesota. She scored 3 of her 5 goals this season against the Whitecaps and picked up an assist in the only game where she didn’t light the lamp. Babstock’s in-your-face style of play is well suited for the playoffs, but she’ll have to make sure she plays within herself and stays out of the box. The good news for the Rivs — Babstock took just one minor penalty against the Whitecaps this season.

How the Riveters win

The Riveters win this game by staying out of the box and doing everything they can to support goaltender Brooke Wolejko in the defensive zone.

“It is a good matchup, I believe,” Mocek told The Ice Garden after the Rivs’ final game of the season. “Their top players are top players in the league. If you look at Allie Thunstrom ... Audra Morrison ... if we can eliminate those top players we have a chance to be successful in that matchup against them. We saw that this weekend, it’s going to be hard.”

The Rivs have also developed a habit of starting the game strong and then letting the opposing team back into games. That is something that their captain wants in the rearview mirror in Tampa. Packer believes the Rivs need to play with their foot on the gas to get to where they want to be — the Isobel Cup Final.

“I think we need to get a little more comfortable not having games be as exciting,” Packer told The Ice Garden. “We get up by three or four goals and then all of a sudden we sit back. I think we’re too comfortable, and we need to get comfortable throttling teams ... Minnesota is a good team. They’ve got some players — if you give them space and they get wide, they’re going to beat you.”

How the Whitecaps win

The Whitecaps win this game by overwhelming the Riveters’ defense with their speed and a transition game that recently got a shot of adrenaline with the return of elite puck-moving defender Sydney Baldwin. If the Riveters make a mistake in the neutral zone, the puck will be going the other way — in a hurry.

Minnesota is going to need all of its lines to play that team speed game while also doing everything they can to support their goaltender. We still can’t say for certain who will be in the goal crease — we may even see the return of Amanda Leveille — but we do know that the Whitecaps had a lot of defensive breakdowns this season and finished the year allowing 38.9 SA/GP. We don’t have public metrics for shot possession, but Minnesota has been a team that is built to generate quality scoring chances, especially on the rush, over relying on a high quantity of chances. It will all come down to what they do with the Grade-A scoring chances they do create.

Both of these teams also have an abundance of experience, but the edge goes to the Whitecaps. This roster knows all about postseason pressure and has seen it all and done it all. That just might be all they need to forget the regular season and focus on winning one game at a time in Florida, starting with the Rivs on Friday.

Prediction

If Lev isn’t back and the Rivs stay out of the box, I think they come out with a 4–3 win. If Lev is back (and healthy), I know enough to know I shouldn’t bet against her and will go with a 3–2 Whitecaps win.

All data courtesy of premierhockeyfederation.com and the author’s own tracking.