Connecticut Whale goaltender Jaime Leonoff spent the final minutes before warm ups Sunday afternoon stretching the kinks out on the black rubber mats outside the ice surface, clearing her head while coaches Heather Linstad and Lisa Giovanelli Zuba conferred on game plans on the benches behind her. Unfortunately for the Whale, even the ounce of prevention was not equal to the pound of cure the Boston Pride threw at Connecticut Sunday, leaving them second in the overall standings.
“We played a great game, we played well for 55 minutes, I think, and just got into trouble there,” Linstad said after the game.
“I think we got a little upset that they scored a shorthanded goal because our D got picked, so…” Linstad trailed off. “But again, we can’t control where the ref is. We have to play the game. They’re a part of it; they don’t get to stand out in the stands so we just have to play. You’re right; I think we deflated ourselves and we can’t do that.”
Connecticut started the game off strong, hoping to earn the first seed ranking back in its last game against the Boston Pride in order to face off against the Riveters, whose players might work relentlessly but whose systems are easier to break down than the Buffalo Beauts.
The game started off with a slap-in goal for Micaela Long, her first since the opening goal for the Whale during their very first preseason game. Brianna Decker answered back with a goal less than a minute later, tying the game up for the rest of the first period, which saw a tense game of hockey. Both teams flew up and down the ice generating some quality shots.
The second period began with the Whale zipping out of the gate and scored two more unanswered even-strength goals to end the second period. The crowd was roaring at every save Leonoff made and crying over each glove Boston goaltender Brittanny Ott clamped down over a puck. But by the time the second period ended, both teams had already seemed to slow a bit.
The third saw the Whale got plenty of practice on the penalty kill. Connecticut, who takes the second-most penalties in the four-team league, seemed to spend half its time short handed.
The Whale’s shots on goal had slowed to a trickle but they remained in the game – nothing was coming easy to Boston. In response, Boston turned the pressure up and caught a break when a Connecticut defender was picked by a referee, allowing Boston to get an easy goal on Leonoff and opening the floodgates for the rest of the third.
Emily Field and Hilary Knight scored quickly while Decker, who had scored in the first, earned herself a hat trick as the Whale took penalty after penalty. Three of the four goals Boston scored were earned on the power play despite the effort the penalty killers were putting up.
It was a difficult loss for the team from Stamford but took some of the pressure of the regular season off. There is nothing they can do to change their standings now, with the Pride three points ahead, meaning they are guaranteed to face the Buffalo Beauts on home ice for the semifinals.With this, Boston will face New York, a team that has had success forcing Boston to the cycle.
“I think our forecheck was much better,” Linstad said. “We put a lot of pressure on their defense today and created some good scoring opportunities. We did a lot of very good things and we just have to keep going and control what we can control. You can’t always control the refs and were they’re at, but we’ll get better.”
When it comes to looking ahead to the upcoming weekend, where the Whale will face the New York Riveters in their last regular-season game, the Whale are more focused on their own game than on preparing to defend against someone else’s.
“We’re just going to build off of what we can do, find out where our…we had some great play,” said Linstad. “I thought we played really, really well. We only have to worry about ourselves and I have to be quite honest, I haven’t seen the Riveters (play yet) so I can’t really talk about them. We’re going to control what we can control.
“I think we’re doing a lot of things well,” Linstad said. “I think we got caught up in the moment there. I didn’t see the play, but I think we got caught up in the moment. There are some things we can do better.”