The Connecticut Whale upset the Toronto Six, winning 5-3 in the first game of the 2023 Isobel Cup semifinal. From the moment the puck dropped, the Whale seemed to have it under control.
The first period started off as a back-and-forth affair, with all signs pointing towards a low-scoring battle of the goaltenders. All it took was a Connecticut Whale power play for that to change. Caitrin Lonergan cut through the Six defense and made a cross-ice pass to Justine Reyes. Reyes’ one-timer beat the Six’s starting goaltender Elaine Chuli and gave the Whale a 1-0 lead.
Though the Whale would briefly take their foot off the gas in the third, they never surrendered that lead. Melissa Samoskevich scored on even strength less than a minute after that first goal to put the Whale up by two. The Six responded to the first two early goals with a goal of their own, but went to the first period intermission down a goal.
That would become the story of the game: the Six would attempt to respond to the Whale’s offense, but it was never quite enough. The Whale scored another power-play goal near the end of the second, and Toronto — despite many opportunities — weren’t able to tie it at any point in the game.
Not only were the Whale particularly strong when they were up a player, but they were also an offensive threat on the penalty kill. Taylor Girard scored shorthanded, 25 seconds into the third period. Part of what makes the Whale so difficult to play is that opposing teams can’t sit back, even on the power play. The play has to be able to turn defensive at a moment’s notice, because if you give the Whale even the slightest opportunity, they have the skill to be able to turn it into a goal.
Connecticut head coach Colton Orr admitted that the Whale weren’t applying enough pressure in the third. Up 4-1, they left room for Toronto’s Michela Cava to score two quick goals and put the Six back within an arm’s reach of the win.
“They’re too skilled a team and have too much talent, too much speed to sit back in a game like that, so we kind of put ourselves in a tough situation there,” he said.
With the game as close as it had been since the third, the Six took a timeout. The next time the Six had possession, Chuli was pulled. The Whale scored an empty-net goal at 18:42, and that was the end. Though the Six didn’t let the possibility of coming back slip through their fingers until the very end, it quickly became clear that 5-3 was going to be the final score.
“It’s tough,” said Cava. “Not over it yet. We’re just going to have to take some time in the room to recover and think about how to come back better. It’s disappointing, but definitely have to have a better performance for 60 minutes tomorrow.”
With this win, the Connecticut Whale have put the Toronto Six in elimination territory. Tomorrow’s game is do or go home for the Six, while the Whale have the opportunity to sweep.
“They scored two power-play goals, they scored a shorthand goal, they scored an empty net goal,” said Toronto head coach Geraldine Heaney. “So five-on-five we only gave up one.”
Special teams were the Whale’s strength and the Six’s downfall. Ultimately, it’s often special teams that wins championships. It was a power-play goal that started the ball rolling for Connecticut today, while all four of the Six’s goals came at even strength despite the Whale’s two penalties in the second and third.
Both teams know how important Saturday’s game is going to be, and it’s clear that neither side underestimates the other.