At first glance, it would appear that heading into the Isobel Cup the top-seeded Toronto Six look to have an easy run against the lowest seed, the Boston Pride.
If only it were so simple and the game would be played on paper.
Here’s what the Toronto Six need to get just right in order to book a date in the Isobel Cup Final the next day:
Defend, Defend, Defend
There’s no question that both of these teams can score. Toronto benefits from the likes of Mikyla Grant-Mentis, who can unlock goalscoring opportunities in the opposition zone seemingly at will.
Boston, on the other hand, is blessed with a deep lineup that contributes goals from top line to bottom line. For reference, Toronto has solely Grant-Mentis and Taylor Woods who have scored three or more goals. Boston by comparison has twice that, with four players on three or more goals: Mallory Souliotis, Sammy Davis, Jillian Dempsey and McKenna Brand.
Both of these teams won their last league games with a +6 goal deficit. Goal scoring won’t be the challenge – the challenge will be who can prevent the most. The last (and only) meeting between these two teams ended in a 2-1 victory for the Toronto Six, the lowest scoring game of the season for either team.
Get Off to a Quick Start
Toronto cannot afford another slow start to play like at the beginning of the 2021 season. It took the Toronto Six roughly three games before they were playing their best hockey, and they maintained that torrid pace for the remainder of the tournament to clinch the top spot. There’s no leeway this time around – lose this game, and they’re out.
The Toronto Six have scored first in almost every game they’ve played this season, including the loss against Minnesota (which arguably should have been a victory barring a third-period collapse).
The only two games they didn’t score first? The first game of the season in which they were shut out, and that aforementioned 2-1 victory against the Boston Pride.
With a low-scoring game anticipated, one gets the feeling that whomever gets that first goal will dictate the tempo for the rest of the game. Not to say that either team will “park the bus” and deploy the neutral zone trap, but for the Toronto Six this will be the first exposure to NWHL playoff hockey for a majority of players: will they crack under the pressure, or rise to the occasion? How will they adapt their high tempo offensive zone style of play for playoff hockey, especially if they’re put on the back foot? Can they adjust and adapt to the needs of the moment or are they just a one-trick pony?
What else needs to happen?
Prior to the original start date of the 2021 Isobel Cup playoffs and conclusion of the regular season, She Scores put together an initial playoff preview article. Some of the things were rather ominous in hindsight, in particular discussing breaches in COVID-19 protocol. As for what needs to happen for the Toronto Six to be successful, some of the conclusions the article previously stated still ring true:
“Don’t stop – avoid injuries and avoid breaching COVID-19 protocol, simply put,” the article said all the way back in February. “All the pieces have to come together at the right time – five-on-five, power play and penalty killing units, goaltending. Across the board this has the makings of a championship calibre team.
They’ve proven that they can rebound from adversity after giving up a four-goal lead in their second game – they haven’t looked back since. If they continue their stunning trajectory, the Toronto Six are at the very least deserving of a shot at the Isobel Cup final.”
The Toronto Six take on the Boston Pride at 5 p.m. ET on Mar. 26. The game can be watched live on Twitch or NBC.