Updated: Mar 20
TORONTO, Ontario -- It's a series for the ages between the #2 and #3 seeds in the PHF, as the Toronto Six avoided elimination in Game 2 with a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the Whale off the stick of Emma Woods. Brittany Howard also scored twice in regulation, while Elaine Chuli had an incredible performance, especially late in the third, with 23 saves.
For the Whale, the top-line center-wing duo of Kennedy Marchment and Taylor Girard added their own tallies to the board. Connecticut goalie Abby Ives made 26 saves for the pod but couldn't keep Woods off the board in overtime.
It all comes down to a head between these two teams on Monday evening. Let's take a look at what worked and what didn't for the Six and Whale on Saturday, starting with the "visitors."
Plus: Stellar goaltending
As mentioned, Chuli was unreal this game, especially in the third when Connecticut's top line was bearing down on her. Marchment had mentioned the chances she had that she knows, "need to go in the back of the net," but was quick to praise her opposing netminder, acknowledging that she's been one of the best in the league for some time now. Chuli's positioning and athleticism really stood out this game, and the way she makes it look easy is a sign that she is elite.
Moreover, the team in front of her seems to really love and respect the work both she and backup Carly Jackson have done for the Six, with Woods saying Chuli has "stood on her back for us all season" and expressing her desire to give her a win. Howard also mentioned how both goalies are the "backbone of our team," stating how they celebrated in overtime especially shows the kind of people they are on and off the ice. Seeing a team rally around its goaltender(s) like that is really special.
Minus: Slow starts
It could have been the quick turnaround between Friday and Saturday, or maybe even some nerves knowing it was do-or-die; either way, the Whale have struck first in both games, and the Six have taken some time to catch up on both ends of the ice. While they obviously can mount a comeback and win periods, that's not a game they will want to play when a ticket to Tempe is on the line Monday evening.
Head coach Geraldine Heaney mentioned that pattern, stating she believes her team is getting closer to putting together a full game: "Seems to be the first game we played one period, today we played two, [and] hopefully on Monday we're gonna play all three. So I think [if] we do that, we're definitely coming up with the big one."
The trick will be to push hard early on Abbie Ives, who was tested late on Friday but had to earn her keep sooner in Saturday's game. The neutral zone was also a lot stronger later in regulation for Toronto, which led to many more shots headed toward the Whale's net. If they can tire out the defense sooner, they will definitely have an easier time creating and holding a lead.
Plus: Special teams are still important
Although Brittany Howard scored on a shorthanded breakaway, the top power play in the PHF still did exactly what it needed to do, with Girard capping off some gorgeous passing with the (at that point) tie-breaking goal. Still, the Whale know they have some work to do.
Head coach Colton Orr kept it short and sweet post-game, saying, "Special teams had an okay night. You don't want to give up the shorty, so it was a tough one for our power play to go down. But in the end, it doesn't matter -- we still lost the game."
Despite that bluntness, he maintained that his team was still very much in it and had "all the positives in the world" to look at heading into Monday. Marchment was a bit more forthcoming, admitting there were quite a few penalties throughout the game on both sides and stating the power play for Connecticut needs to sharpen up on its passing and sustaining time in the zone, rather than allowing Toronto to gain the zone and eat up the clock on their penalty kill.
The good news is that this is a power play unit that can do exactly that. Marchment and Girard are both scarily good at picking their shots and creating those plays that can turn even a well-tuned PK on its head -- or a power-play, for that matter, as Girard led the league in shorthanded goals in the regular season with four, and Marchment's right behind her with two of her own.
Melissa Samoskevich (who had a secondary assist on Girard's power play tally) can also make things difficult. The defense for Connecticut is excellent at taking away lanes on the penalty kill and moving the puck on the power play. Even with a Six offense that can strike when provided the chance, I do not want to be the team that gives the Whale too many more skater advantages. I might not even want to draw penalties, to be honest.
Minus: Spreading the wealth offensively
The Whale are definitely getting the offense they need from their top line. However, I really want to see more from players like Samoskevich, Alyssa Wohlfeiler, and Caitrin Lonergan. Lonergan's forechecking and defensive play definitely stood out to me on Saturday and she did have four shots on goal.
But to have her (or any of the aforementioned players) hit the back of the net would speak to the true depths of this Connecticut team. Marchment doesn't think her team has left everything on the table yet, so maybe we'll see more of that secondary scoring come Monday.
Major Key: Even tempo
The Whale have been to the Isobel Cup Final before, and they are all business heading into this tie-breaker. For their part, the Six are still dangerous as ever, but they will want to find a better balance of their emotions heading into Game 3. They were able to keep the pressure on for a good part of Saturday's game, and they dominated OT.
Still, just like Connecticut isn't feeling too low after Saturday, Toronto will need to keep from getting too high and letting the game get away from them -- meaning, fewer penalties, fewer shots against, and maintaining a full 60 minutes.