The Beauts find themselves in a precarious position heading into Week Two of the single-site season at Lake Placid. With the Riveters having to withdraw in accordance with the NWHL’s COVID-19 protocols, it’s now between the Beauts and the Pride for a best-of-three play-in series for the fourth and final playoff spot. It’s not necessarily the position either of these teams necessarily believed they would or in fact want to be in, but that’s the beauty of this kind of season — anything can happen, and now one of these teams faces the prospect of missing the playoffs for the first time if the other can pull it together at the right time. And with a game-day announcement of a big addition to the roster, the Beauts just might have a shot.
The last time these two teams faced off, it did not go smoothly for Buffalo. Jillian Dempsey broke loose for two goals and Kaleigh Fratkin had two assists in a 5–1 drubbing Sunday evening. Carly Jackson was peppered with 40 shots and stopped 35 of them, which obviously was impressive — but not enough to withstand the Pride’s deep offense and power-play skills.
The good thing about this matchup is that these two teams have faced each other before. Buffalo has had a chance to see Boston’s systems, defense, and goaltending firsthand, and so they have a chance to prepare accordingly. Moreover, the Pride have a huge question mark on their end: the status of Dempsey, who suffered an upper body injury Tuesday against Toronto and dressed, but didn’t take a shift, in the Pride’s 4–1 loss to the Whale Wednesday evening. Head coach Paul Mara has made it clear Dempsey is a day-to-day evaluation, and if there’s ever a time she’s needed, it’s this weekend against Buffalo. But even if she plays, there’s no certainty she’ll be 100 percent — and while her less-than-100 is still threatening, the Beauts can use any breaks they can get.
Still, there’s Christina Putigna, McKenna Brand, and now Sammy Davis and Taylor Wenczkowski, among others, for Buffalo to worry about — and for a team that allowed nearly 60 shot attempts in their last meeting against Boston, that’s more than enough to deal with. Jackson has been the saving grace, but it’s up to her defense — and even more, her offense — to carry more of the load.
Three keys to success
- Pressure from the top line. Autumn MacDougall shined in her debut on the Beauts top line with Jordan Juron and Kristin Lewicki, scoring two goals Wednesday night against the Six. They’re going to need that kind of performance against, with the Beauts utilizing their speed, their excellent forechecking ability, and their puck movers — Marie-Jo Pelletier and Lenka Čurmová, mainly — to replicate what worked so well in the first period against Toronto in their last outing.
- Bring back the Cheese. A huge boost to the lineup will be the addition of Lisa Chesson, who has made it to Lake Placid in time to get the Beauts into the playoffs and will certainly do wonders for the power play and the blue line as a whole. The organization had announced she would not be able to make the trip just before the start of the season, but whatever issues there were have been resolved in time for her to help Buffalo stay in it.
- Don’t go shorthanded. The most important thing is to stay out of the penalty box, something Buffalo has struggled to do after their first game. With an average of four penalties per game and an 83 percent success rate on the penalty kill, they would do extremely well to keep that load light./
Puck drop is at 3 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday at Herb Brooks Arena, and 8:30 p.m. Monday if necessary.