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Beauts punch fourth ticket to final on Szabados shutout

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Fans patiently await news of location and opponent

Michelle Jay

For the fourth season, the Buffalo Beauts faced the Boston Pride in the Isobel Cup playoffs. They are they only teams to have faced each other in each of the four NWHL postseasons, and Buffalo led the series 2-1. They held a 3-1 lead on the seasonal series heading into Saturday’s game.

Following a 4-3 shootout loss to the Metroplitan Riveters, there was an unusual air of trepidation surrounding the Beauts, who hadn’t lost before that March matchup since December 29. The Pride are a fantastic team, and are completely capable of unleashing a flurry of goals in the blink of an eye. The Beauts needed to play their best game of the season if they hoped to advance to the Isobel Cup final for the fourth consecutive season.

It was a tightly contested first period. Buffalo outshot the Pride 12-10, but each goaltender was up to the task, with neither relenting a point. The Beauts even had the benefit of an early power play, but were unable to capitalize.

It was an expected result from the top special teams club in the league. Boston has made a name for itself being especially stalwart on the penalty kill, and just 15 seconds into the game, they were called upon to once again keep the puck out of the net; a task which they were able to accomplish.

The best opportunity of the period came with fewer than five minutes surpassed. Maddie Elia, who led the league in goals in the regular season, deflected an errant pass back into the Boston zone. Elia fought off a litany of Pride defenders to get the puck to Savannah Harmon, but Boston netminder Katie Burt saw the entire play and was able to make the stop.

The sellout crowd, giddy with their Whopper certificates, prompted the Beauts to a fiery second period start. The action was back-and forth at the outset, and the Pride had the better chances in the early going, but 10:32 seconds into the period, Maddie Elia did what she does best, burying a loose puck after a Blake Bolden shot caused a panic in front of the net.

Five minutes later, the Beauts’ power play flexed its muscle when Emily Pfalzer scored her first of the postseason. The wily defender crept ever closer to the net as the play cycled and when the puck finally landed on her stick, she made no mistake, potting it top shelf. Hayley Scamurra and Dani Cameranesi got the assists on the play, but Bolden deserves a world of credit for an incredible diving play that kept the puck in the zone and the fatigued Boston penalty kill on the ice.

Buffalo dominated the second, ending the middle frame up 2-0 with a 31-15 shot advantage.

The pressure rested entirely on the shoulders of the Pride as the third period began. In the regular season, Boston had outscored their opponents 23-11 in the final 20. They’d need that dominance to crawl back into the game if there was any hope of taking Buffalo at home.

The Pride had a great chance early on as Gigi Marvin streaked into the zone, gaining numbers on a 2-on-1. Pfalzer made an incredible defensive play, laying out to take away the pass and forcing Marvin to the endboards.

Boston began to chip away at the Buffalo shot lead, but the Beauts would not let off of the gas. Pressure from Emily Janiga forced an errant pass and the Buffalo native popped a shot over an outstretched Burt to give the Beauts a 3-0 lead.

With just under three and a half minutes left, Dani Cameranesi scored the final goal of the evening - Buffalo’s second power play tally of the night. The team finished two-of-five with the advantage, which was one of the many improvements over the regular season that led to the team’s success.

Beauts goaltender and official crowned monarch of hockey Shannon Szabados posted the shutout, joining pioneers Brittany Ott and Jaimie Leonoff, along with Katie Fitzgerald, as the only goaltenders to do so in the postseason.

Buffalo waits patiently for the date, location, and opponent for the final. The match between the Minnesota Whitecaps and the Metropolitan RIveters to decide such matters was postponed. If the Riveters pull another incredible upset, the Beauts will host their first Isobel Cup final. If Minnesota wins, Buffalo will have to travel to St. Paul, where they are 0-2 historically.