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Toronto shuts out Whale, 3-0, to advance to Isobel Cup final

Toronto’s Leah Lum celebrates after scoring in Monday night’s PHF playoff game in Toronto. The Six eliminated the Whale, 3-0. (Lori Bollinger photo courtesy of PHF)

Goalie Elaine Chuli made 31 saves and Kati Tabin had a goal and two assists as the Toronto Six advanced to their first-ever Isobel Cup championship game with a 3-0 shutout win over the Connecticut Whale Monday night at the Mattaway Athletic Centre in Toronto’s historic Maple Leaf Gardens building.

The Six will be the first Canadian team to play for the Isobel Cup and the Premier Hockey Federation championship when they face the Minnesota Whitecaps in a one-game title game on Sunday night at 9 p.m. in Tempe, Arizona, the home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.

Toronto, which had never won a playoff game in their brief three-year history before this series began, won two straight games to eliminate the Whale and win the best-of-3 series, 2-1. The Six beat Connecticut in overtime on Saturday night, 3-2, and dominated on Monday, despite giving up 31 shots on net.

Connecticut had some chances but they were hard earned. There were few open ice opportunities for the Whale and when they were able to get shot on goal, Chuli was able to deflect them.

Toronto, which took a 1-0 lead on Michala Cava’s wrap around goal with 5:21 gone in the game, seemed in control throughout the game. They had seven of the first 10 shots in the game. Connecticut had a few flurries of action but it was primarily near the end of each period.

Just 32 seconds into the second period, Leah Lum scored her first goal of the playoffs to give Toronto a commanding 2-0 lead. The Whale had 10 shots in the period but three came in a flurry in the final 1:02 of the contest.

Connecticut hoped to make a move in the third period but couldn’t. Kennedy Marchment did find some open ice and tried to make a break for the goal with 14:23 remaining but Emma Greco was all over her, not allowing Marchment any space to get her stick on the puck.

With 11:09 remaining, the first penalty of the game was called on Marchment for cross-checking. Tabin put the finishing wraps on the game with a hard slap shot from the point with 10:42 remaining for a commanding 3-0 lead.

Whale coach Colton Orr hinted at opportunities lost and Connecticut not finishing off the Six on Saturday. Connecticut had leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the game that was lost in overtime.

“We let it slide (away) in the second game,” he said. “We had opportunities to end (the series). It was tougher for us to grind a little bit with fatigue and the travel. It’s not an excuse by any means.”

The Whale finished the regular season with consecutive trips to Buffalo and Minnesota before heading to Toronto for a three-game semifinal series.

“I am so proud of the way we battled throughout the year to get to this point,” Orr said. “We came up short but we gave it all. We really did. We left it all out there. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

It was also the final professional game for Whale defender Shannon Turner, who began with the Whale in the league’s first season in 2015-16

“The point to stay all of these years was to leave the league in a better place than when I came,” she said.

Connecticut’s Shannon Turner, right, keeps the pressure on Toronto’s Brittany Howard during Monday night’s PHF playoff game in Toronto. The Six beat the Whale, 3-0. (Lori Bollinger photo courtesy PHF)

Turner was disappointed that the Whale and her Connecticut teammates won’t be part of the Isobel Cup championship game that will be held after Arizona faces the Colorado Avalanche earlier in the day. But she is proud of the growth of the league and the opportunities available today for women playing professional hockey.

“I am so proud of what you’ve done in your career Shannon and what you’ve done for me as a coach,” Orr said. “I couldn’t have a better captain to help lead and build this culture. You’ve helped take an organization and change their culture single handily. That’s pretty impressive thing to see.”

Toronto 3, Connecticut 0
At Toronto
Connecticut (1-2)                  0  0  0  — 0
Toronto (2-1)                         1  1  1  — 3
First period
Toronto 1, Michela Cava (Kati Tabin, Lindsay Eastwood), 5:21; No penalties
Second period
Toronto 2, Leah Lum (Michela Cava, Kati Tabin), 0:32; No penalties
Third period
Toronto 3, Kati Tabin (Brittany Howard, Dominika Laskova), 9:18; Penalties – Kennedy Marchment (CT) cross checking, 8:51; Alyssa Wohlfeiler (CT) roughing 9:55; Emma Greco (T) delay of game, 9:55
Saves: Elaine Chuli (T) 31, Abbie Ives (CT) 22; Power plays – Connecticut 0-1, Toronto 1-2; Shots: Connecticut 31 (9-10-12), Toronto 25 (8-11-6)

2023 PHF playoffs
Semifinals (best-of-3)
Thursday, March 16
Minnesota 5, Boston 2
Friday March 17
Connecticut 5, Toronto 3
Saturday, March 18
Toronto 3, Connecticut 2, OT
Minnesota 4, Boston 1, Minnesota wins series, 2-0
Monday, March 20
Toronto 3, Connecticut 0, Toronto wins series, 2-1
Sunday, March 26
Isobel Cup championship

Minnesota vs. Toronto, 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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