Sixty-four seconds into Sunday’s single-elimination playoff game between the visiting Connecticut Whale and the Metropolitan Riveters, the Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark, N.J., erupted. All-Star winger Rebecca Russo slapped a puck past Whale goaltender Sydney Rossman after getting around Rachel Ade with her explosive speed. It was a dream start for Russo, the Riveters, and the small ocean of fans that could not be contained by the bleachers.
“It was unbelievable,” Russo told the media after the game. “I saw this crowd with their rally towels and I knew it was our game. I was amped up in the locker room, I was getting the team going — we were all getting each other going. We took it up to a new notch today.”
Russo’s goal got the crowd and her team going early, but the Whale refused to go down quietly. In the second half of the first period, and for the majority of the second period, Connecticut kept pace with the Riveters and stymied their transition game. Eventually Erika Lawler scored at the 13:32 mark of the second period to make it 2-0, but the Whale were still very much alive at the second intermission.
Connecticut played strong in the neutral zone, but they failed to develop quality scoring chances. Unfortunately for the Whale, their special team woes followed them into the postseason. Connecticut went 0-for-6 on the power play against the Riveters on Sunday night. The only special-teams goal scored in the game was a Madison Packer shorthanded tally at the midway point of the third period. You could feel the window close on Connecticut’s season when Packer dangled around Rossman to make it 3-0. The Whale simply didn’t have the firepower to keep up with the Riveters.
Shortly after Packer’s goal Bray Ketchum cashed in, after finding Kelsey Koelzer’s shot from the point, to make it a 4-0 game. Just 32 seconds later — after a Whale goaltending change — Kelly Nash took a wrist shot that deflected off of a Whale defender’s stick and beat Keira Goin up high to make it 5-0. Clearly, the hockey gods were smiling on the home team.
“I think the [team] earned every goal they put on the board tonight,” Riveters’ head coach Chad Wiseman told the media after the franchise’s first playoff victory. “It was a hard-fought game, as expected from Connecticut. They don’t quit, they work hard, they compete, and they made us earn it tonight. I thought our [team] came to play in all aspects of the game. Defensively we only gave up 14 shots. It was a playoff hockey game, and definitely a confidence booster for us heading into next weekend.”
Wiseman was particularly pleased with the play of his top two lines. The Riveters have been a different team with Miye D’Oench back in the lineup and Packer and Russo have been on an absolute tear as of late.
“With Lawler and Russo’s speed, and Packer’s ability to protect pucks and grind it out, they work well together, for sure,” Wiseman shared. “Having Miye back in the lineup is obviously a huge help to round out that first line. She plays on both sides of the puck so getting her back is huge; she balances out our entire front line.”
A 5-0 win over the Whale on Sunday night has the Riveters feeling confident heading into next weekend’s Isobel Cup Final showdown with the Buffalo Beauts. The stage is set for what is sure to be an absolute classic in Newark next Sunday.