Saturday’s NWHL action was filled with surprises and continuing trends.
On one end, the Boston Pride are the first team in the tournament facing elimination (for non-COVID-related reasons) and on the other, Carly Jackson and Mikyla Grant-Mentis continue their dominance of the entire league.
Grant-Mentis won it for the Six with a tally with 23 seconds remaining as they recorded their third consecutive victory, while Nina Rodgers broke out with two goals for the Whitecaps herself.
All in all, just another night in the NWHL.
Buffalo (1-2-1) 2, Boston (1-4-0) 1
BUF: Autumn MacDougall, Lisa Chesson
BOS: Lauren Kelly
Key takeaway — Will the real Boston Pride please stand up: The Pride eclipsed their loss total on Tuesday night, but now with three defeats since the bubble opened a week ago, everything around the team looks dramatically different.
Boston has been outscored 7-0 in the third period and has blown two 1-0 leads which resulted in losses since entering the bubble. Its offence — dominant in leading the league in scoring a year ago — has been completely shut down.
There’s credit to be given to the goalies for certain, but as captain Jillian Dempsey plays through a shoulder injury, there’s clearly a lack of cohesion on offence all around. The rookies, while dynamic, haven’t found consistency — Christina Putigna and McKenna Brand have been seemingly the only forwards generating chances.
On Saturday, defender Lauren Kelly notched her first goal, and it seemed like a good sign. For years, the Boston blue line — which has four of six starting defenders from last year, and three from two years ago — has driven offence, and thus far it hadn’t produced.
Dempsey, dealing with a shoulder injury that led her to dress but not play on Wednesday, went 9-5 at the faceoff dot. The Pride had plenty of possession, but their inability to bury is starting to burn them.
Boston allowed Buffalo to outshoot them 13-11 in the third after winning that battle 26-10 in the first two frames. Last season, the Pride succeeded late in games by wearing other teams down, but that depth has seemed to evade them this time.
Player of the game — Carly Jackson: Jackson has consistently turned out stellar performances and has only now been rewarded.
Her 35-save effort against the Pride on Saturday was the best yet, and it got the rookie goaltender into the win column.
Jackson has stopped 35 pucks in each of her four games in the bubble, despite it taking her that many to finally post a win. The Beauts’ offensive output still isn’t lighting the world up, tallying just twice on Lovisa Selander and the Pride, so despite the comeback it was still Jackson’s game.
Plenty of goalies have stood out, including Toronto’s Elaine Chuli and Connecticut rookie Abbie Ives, but Jackson is quickly rising in the ranks of top goaltenders in the sport.
What’s next: Boston is facing elimination, which is absolutely wild to think about. The Pride were favourites heading into this season — their self-proclaimed revenge tour — after missing out on playing in the Isobel Cup game last March.
The format changed with the Riveters out, pitting Boston and Buffalo against each other for the fourth slot in the semi-finals. Thinking of Boston not being in one of those slots is impossible, but that’s what it’s now up against.
The Beauts looked revitalized with Chesson back in their lineup, and Jackson has been unreal in net, so we’ll see how the Pride handle being up against the wall.
Toronto (3-1-1) 4, Minnesota (3-1-0) 3
TOR: Mikyla Grant-Mentis (2), Taylor Woods, Sarah-Eve Coutu Godbout
MIN: Nina Rodgers (2), Brooke White-Lancette
Key takeaway — Toronto rookies are legit: Without Kristen Barbara on the blue line, Eastwood saw much more ice time. The Six played with just five defenders the entire game, boosting everyone’s minutes.
Lindsay Eastwood capitalized in particular, nabbing an assist on Grant-Mentis’ early goal, highlighting the impact she’s had in her rookie season.
She’s recorded five points overall — her goal was the first in franchise history on Sunday against Minnesota, and all four of her assists have been primary assists.
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) January 31, 2021
Her impact has been incredible for a first-year player, but she also stepped up on a night where the Six were short-handed.
Sarah-Eve Coutu found the scoreboard as well, her first in the NWHL. The rookies have been performing well across the board, but the Six are more reliant on their young players than anyone else, and thus far, they’ve come through.
Player(s) of the game — Nina Rodgers and Mikyla Grant-Mentis: It’s felt like it would only be a matter of time before Nina Rodgers would fully blossom in the NWHL.
Between two seasons split between Connecticut and Minnesota, that breakout has seemed oh so close.
Saturday night against Toronto, she finally arrived.
Rodgers scored twice — tying her output from her first year and totalling more than she scored in seven games combined a year ago — to help the Whitecaps come back and tie Toronto three times.
On the other end, there’s not much that can be said about Grant-Mentis that hasn’t been said already.
The second-year forward tallied her third and fourth goals on Saturday night, including the game-winner with just 23 seconds left on the clock.
For the fifth-straight contest, Grant-Mentis dominated every shift she was on the ice. With seven shots on goal, she led her squad in attempts.
What’s next: The Six will dress for yet another back-to-back to face a red-hot Whale squad. Connecticut won its last two contests and hasn’t played since a victory over the Pride on Wednesday night.
Toronto has dealt with back-to-backs in each set of games this season, between Saturday-Sunday, Tuesday-Wednesday and now Saturday-Sunday again.
Minnesota has Sunday off before facing the Whale on Monday night.