Whitecaps roll past Riveters, advance to Semis

Leveille returns with a 33-save performance against the Rivs

The Minnesota Whitecaps punched their ticket to the Isobel Cup semifinal with a 4-1 victory over the Metropolitan Riveters. As a result of tonight’s win, the Whitecaps will play the regular-season champion Connecticut Whale on Sunday in the semis and are now two wins away from lifting their second Isobel Cup.

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The biggest story of this playoff showdown was the return of Amanda Leveille to the Whitecaps. Minnesota lined up for the opening faceoff with the most prolific goalie in PHF/NWHL history behind them.

“She’s always been our backbone as a team,” Whitecaps coach Ronda Curtin Engelhardt said after the game. “Honestly, with her injury, we didn’t know how long she’d be out. She just got back on the ice full-swing this week so she didn’t have too many practices under her belt. When I told her she was playing she was a little kid in a candy store. So excited. She loves to play. She loves to compete.”

And compete she did.

In a fast-paced and wide-open first period, it was the Whitecaps who scored the lone goal. Former Riveter Audra Morrison drove wide into the zone and slipped the puck in front of the net to Taylor Turnquist, who was allowed too much time and space by the Rivs’ defense. The play was made possible by a great outlet pass by Jonna Curtis to Morrison, who did the work to create the scoring chance.

The second period had a much different feel than the free-wheeling first period but, as it turns out, it also had a lot more scoring. Morrison and Jonna Curtis were the catalysts for a Sydney Baldwin goal to make it a 2-0 game 6:54 into the first. The Riveters responded with a Kelly Babstock slap shot that just squeaked through Lev two minutes later. Emily Janiga took a whack at it, but it appears that the goal is Babstock’s.

A little after the midway point of the second, the Whitecaps regained their two-goal lead and — you guessed it — it was Morrison and Curtis making things happen. Baldwin blasted her second goal of the game past Brooke Wolejko to put Minnesota up 3-1 after some hard work by the star wingers.

After 40 minutes, the shots were even at 24 — giving Leveille 23 saves in her first two periods of PHF action since Feb. 5.

The only goal of the third was an empty-netter buried by Allie Thunstrom. However, before Thunstrom called ball game in the final minute there was plenty of fireworks and drama.

The Rivs came out ready to prove something in the third and were hunting for scoring chances that the Whitecaps’ defense and Leveille found answers to. Finally, the game slipped out of reach at the 15:55 mark. After some nasty cross-checks were exchanged by all parties involved, the Riveters ended up on a penalty kill after working hard to find a goal for the first three-quarters of the third period. Unfortunately for the Rivs, they spent the rest of the game killing penalties.

“We just got outworked, period,” Riveters captain Madison Packer said after the game. “We had pucks at the net, we had bodies at the net, I had ... chances right in front of the net, I didn’t put the puck in the net. We got outworked. That’s it.”

Leveille finished the game with 32 saves and is the easy pick for the first star of the game, in my opinion. Wolejko stopped 29 of the 32 pucks that came her way and did everything she could to keep the Rivs in this one. Morrison and Curtis led the way in scoring with three helpers each.

Scoring Summary

1st | 1-0 | Taylor Turnquist from Audra Morrison, Jonna Curtis
2nd | 2-0 | Sydney Baldwin from Jonna Curtis, Audra Morrison
2nd | 2-1 | Kelly Babstock from Leila Kilduff, Rose Alleva
2nd | 3-1 | Sydney Baldwin (PP) from Jonna Curtis, Audra Morrison
3rd | 4-1 | Allie Thunstrom (PP, ENG) from Haley Mack