The 2016 Isobel Cup Finals matchups have been determined and will take place Friday, March 11 in New Jersey. This is a neutral site for a new rivalry between the Boston Pride and the Buffalo Beauts. With it, comes an end to the endless road trips, the Twitter wars between teams and all the “firsts” the inaugural season has seen: first hat tricks, first awards, first suspensions and fights, saves and garbage goals.
The Pride have the chance to take home the Isobel Cup; a team that (more or less) won the Clarkson Cup in 2015, Boston is heavily favored to win the series against Buffalo but to do so, they will have to win two more games.
How? We take a look.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Shutting down offensive firepower seems like a simple task but Buffalo is the club that handed Boston their only loss post-November, in large part because they managed to keep the goals coming. Going into the Finals, one thing is clear: if Boston is to win this series, they will need to neutralize Buffalo’s best puck-movers.
Kelley Steadman alone accounts for a huge number of offensive zone entries that she creates by herself regularly; she has generated 13 shots on net and two points over only two postseason games. Steadman finds incredibly creative ways around defenders and opposing forwards so the biggest challenge facing Boston when it comes to Steadman is likely simply keeping her separated from the puck as much as possible.
The other massive threat on Buffalo’s team is Olympian and defender Megan Bozek. Bozek’s trademark blast from the blue line has earned her three goals in two games.
Bozek appears to have turned it on just in time for the postseason. While she was considered a player to watch before, and her slapshot has gained notoriety after winning the hardest-shot competition at the NWHL’s inaugural All-Star Game in January, since the regular season ended Bozek has amped up the offensive power and made her presence known every time she steps on the ice.
The best way to ensure Bozek doesn’t get a chance to take that slapshot from the blue line is to keep her off the blue line entirely. One of Boston’s strengths is simply hanging out in the offensive zone, wearing down their opponent’s defenders and goaltender with shot after shot off the cycle. If Boston is to neutralize Bozek, this is the best way to do so.
Get out the chalkboard
The Beauts are coming off an upset win against the Connecticut Whale and riding a wave of emotion; they staved off elimination not once, but twice, and against a team they had never been able to beat before. Not only should Boston be able to capitalize on that by keeping cool and executing systems appropriately, which will likely be the deciding factor in this series, the Pride also need to focus on drawing penalties.
Boston admittedly had some help from the Riveters over the past weekend. When playing the second most-penalized team in the league it isn’t difficult to draw a penalty or two but conversion is the key; the Pride scored on 38.5 percent of those power play opportunities.
On penalty kills, the Pride were less effective, preventing goals on only 60 percent of penalties over the course of two games, showing a softer underbelly that Buffalo will gore more likely than not.
If Boston continues to play its systems and keep its cool, the Pride should take the series handily in two. It’s when its players get stuck in their own heads that Boston begins to falter. With the Cup on the line, the Pride cannot afford to take a second off.