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Starting quickly, Whale grab game one from Toronto, 5-3

Connecticut defender Shannon Turner, right, closes in on Toronto’s Shiann Darkangelo (27) in Friday’s PHF playoff game in Toronto. Connecticut won, 5-3. (Lori Bolliger photo courtesy PHF)

Taylor Girard scored two goals, including a shorthanded goal with 25 seconds gone in the third period, to help lift the Connecticut Whale to a 5-3 win over the Toronto Six in game one of their Premier Hockey Federation semifinal Friday afternoon in Toronto.

The win gives Connecticut a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 series with game two on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Mattaway Athletic Center in the historic Maple Leaf Gardens building. Connecticut, which is the No. 3 seed in the PHF playoffs, won their seventh straight game.

The Whale scored two goals in a span of 1:09 in the first period to take a quick lead and never lost it. Girard’s short-handed goal, her fifth of the season, gave Connecticut a three-goal lead early in the third period, 4-1.

“Come the playoffs, your best players have to be your best players,” Connecticut head coach Colton Orr said. “They came to play today. They came ready to go. Kennedy (Marchment) has been a leader all season and continues to be (in the playoffs).”

Marchment had two assists along with rookie Caitlin Lonergan and defenseman Allie Munroe. Whale goalie Abbie Ives made 21 saves in net to earn the win.

“We got off to a very slow start and tried to play catchup the whole game. We almost did it,” Toronto coach Geraldine Heaney said. “We need to start the first period (on Saturday) where we left off in the third period.”

The third period was a frenzy of action up and down the ice but Ives and the Whale defense was able to do enough to earn the victory.

Connecticut led 3-1 after two periods and was trying to kill off a penalty when the third period began. But as they have all year, they were aggressive.

“We have the skills. We have the speed and we like to try and take advantage (of a short-handed situation),” Orr said. “It’s tough to prepare for a power play when you have to defend people attacking you.”

On the penalty kill, Marchment got the puck away from a Toronto forward and took off up ice. She attracted the attention of a pair of Six defenders but just before she arrived at the net, she got a pretty pass through both defenders to a wide open Girard.

“I had a very wide open net,” Girard said. “Kennedy had to make that unreal pass through those defenders. I just had to tap it in.”

It was the league-leading ninth shorthanded goal of the season for Connecticut.

Admitted Heaney, “When you’re on the power play, you’re not looking to defend. You’re looking to score. They got a chance and capitalized on it.”

Connecticut goalie Abbie Ives plays the puck during Friday’s PHF playoff game in Toronto. The Whale won, 5-3. (Lori Bolliger photo courtesy PHF).

Toronto cut the lead to 4-2 on a goal from Michala Cava, which deflected in off the skate of Ives. Nearly five minutes later, Cava scored her second goal with a shot that went over the shoulder of Ives and just under the crossbar to cut the lead to 4-3 with 13:39 remaining in regulation.

“I was just trying to get the puck as fast as possible to the net,” Cava said.

Toronto goalie Elaine Chuli kept her team in the game by robbing Girard at the near post with 7:17 remaining with a save. Ives responded with a big save on Cava with 5:45 left in regulation.

Connecticut added an empty net goal from Girard with 1:18 remaining to ice the victory.

The Whale took a 1-0 lead on a power play goal from Justin Reyes with 5:36 gone in the first period. A little over a minute later, it was Melissa Samoshevich with a goal thanks to a Munroe assist for a 2-0 lead.

Emma Woods scored for the Six with 2:25 left in the period to cut the lead in half.

In the second period, Connecticut extended their lead to 3-1 with a goal from Lonergan that deflected in off Chuli and into the net. Munroe had a great pass to Lonergan in front of the net.

Connecticut 5, Toronto 3
At Toronto
Connecticut (1-0)                2  1  2  — 5
Toronto (0-1)                       1  0  2  — 3
First period
Connecticut 1, Justin Reyes (Caitrin Lonergan), 14:24 (pp); Connecticut 2, Melissa Samoskevich (Allie Munroe), 15:15; Toronto 1, Emma Woods (Breanne Wilson-Bennett, Tereza Vanisova) 17:35; Penalties – Taylor Davidson (T), body checking, 9:38; Lindsay Eastwood (T) tripping, 12:51
Second period
Connecticut 3, Caitrin Lonergan (Allie Munroe), 16:28 (pp); Penalties – Saroya Tinker (T) slashing, 15:07; Alyssa Wohlfeiler (CT) hooking, 19:01
Third period
Connecticut 4, Taylor Girard (Kennedy Marchment), 00:25 (sh); Toronto 2, Michela Cava (Brittany Howard), 1:42; Toronto 3, Michela Cava (Shiann Darkangelo), 6:21; Connecticut 5, Taylor Girard (Kennedy Marchment), 18:42 (en); Penalties – Emma Keenan (CT) kneeing, 7:55
Saves: Abbie Ives (CT) 21, Elaine Chuli (T) 28; Shots: Connecticut 33 (16-10-7), Toronto 24 (6-8-10); Power plays: Connecticut 2-3, Toronto 0-2

2023 PHF playoffs
Semifinals (best-of-3)
Thursday, March 16
Minnesota 5, Boston 2, Minnesota leads series, 1-0
Friday March 17
Connecticut 5, Toronto 3, Connecticut leads series, 1-0
Saturday, March 18
Connecticut at Toronto, 2 p.m.
Minnesota at Boston (Bentley College), 6 p.m.
Sunday, March 19
Minnesota at Boston (Bentley College), 6 p.m., if necessary
Monday, March 20
Connecticut at Toronto, 6 p.m., if necessary
Sunday, March 26
Isobel Cup championship

Two semifinal winners, 9 p.m. at Arizona State University

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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