NWHL

Nana Fujimoto Leads Riveters Past Beauts in Shootout

Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

The Buffalo Beauts travelled to New York on Valentine’s Day to face the Riveters for their final road game of the season. There was a lot on the line for both teams. Buffalo held a three-point lead on the Riveters for third place in the league, and a regulation win would secure that spot for the Beauts as the teams battle for momentum heading to the playoffs.

The Riveters came hot out of the gate, which was refreshing for the team that’s struggled with slow starts throughout the season. The home team opened the scoring just two minutes into the first frame, catching Buffalo looking a bit weary from the road. New York had the game’s first five shots before the Beauts got their legs under them and began to take over the game.

Familiar flaws haunted both teams as they worked through the first period. Buffalo’s power play failed to generate anything more than a few shots, and the Riveters spent a lot of time in their zone, especially behind their own net. As Buffalo pressed on the forecheck, the Riveters were hesitant to move the puck up the wall, choosing instead to play it back and forth behind their net.

Nana Fujimoto had a fantastic first period, making 16 saves to keep her team in the game. A late penalty to Elena Orlando had Buffalo starting the second period on the power play. Though the team did not capitalize on the man advantage, Erin Zach knotted the game up just as the penalty expired, taking the wind out of the Riveters’ sails. Just five minutes later, Shelby Bram netted the Beauts’ second goal, and while New York had some occasional offensive pressure, Buffalo dominated the period — one of their most complete efforts of the season so far.

Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Perhaps feeling the gravity of the situation, New York came into the third period with an urgency that has been lacking in their game for much of the season. The Beauts’ penalty kill unit was missing one of its key components in Meghan Duggan, and the Riveters took advantage, scoring twice on the power play.

The quick pace of the game served the home team well. Buffalo’s fatigue became a factor as the game progressed and with the score tied at three, the Beauts relied heavily on goaltender Brianne McLaughlin to secure the tie and lead the team into overtime.

The matchup could not be decided in the first 65 minutes, and so the shootout would end the game once again. When these two teams last met in New York, Beauts captain Emily Pfalzer won the game for the team in the shootout, and though she was able to score again today, Fujimoto made two saves and New York took the extra point.

The goaltenders were certainly the story in the game. Buffalo dominated the stat-sheet in shots, but New York had more of the quality chances in the third period, and nearly doubled the shots that had taken in the previous two periods. Fujimoto faced more than 40 shots in the game and was spectacular, especially in the overtime period.

Speaking to the NWHL network’s analyst in the first intermission, Madison Packer spoke of the Japanese Olympian.

“She had a tough start – she was used to playing on the Olympic ice. She fought through an injury in the middle of the season, but she’s been hitting the gym and taking extra shots at practice, really strengthening her game.”

In a post-game interview with the NWHL network, Fujimoto was ecstatic.

“I am very happy that we could win. [I knew] my team would score a goal for me, so I was able to remain calm through the game…we are very encouraged going into the playoffs.”

With the loser point, Buffalo’s lead on New York in the standings moves to four. Two games remain in the NWHL season, and though the Riveters can mathematically catch the Beauts, Buffalo retains the tiebreaker at this time. The same two teams will face off next Sunday at Buffalo’s HarborCenter, where the season series, and the third place spot, will be decided once and for all.

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