Toronto Six goalie Elaine Chuli is no stranger to the pressure. And the game one loss to the Connecticut Whale in the Premier Hockey League semifinals was on her mind.
“It was definitely in my head. It would be a long offseason if we lost two in a row,” she said.
Chuli made 25 saves and teammate Emma Woods scored with 7:29 remaining in overtime as the Six beat the Connecticut Whale, 3-2 Saturday to even the best-of-three series at 1-1. The deciding game three will be played Monday night at 6 p.m. at Mattamy Athletic Center in Toronto with the winner advancing to the Isobel Cup championship game.
Woods had the game-winning goal as Toronto rallied from a 1-0 and 2-1 deficit to earn the win. Brittany Howard had a pair of goals for the Six, who won the first playoff game in team history.
But it was Chuli who gave her team a chance to win. It was just 25 saves but some were truly outstanding stops.
Tied at 2-2, the Whale were on the penalty kill and Connecticut’s Kennedy Marchment broke free for a short-handed attempt. Chuli made the save with 8:42 remaining in regulation. A little over a minute later, Toronto was still on the power play but Marchment broke free again on another short-handed attempt.
Chuli deflected Marchment’s shot over the goal and it came back down right at the feet of Connecticut’s Taylor Girard on her left. Chuli stopped Girard’s shot with her pad.
“I thought I was beat on the first play until I realized it was behind the net and then I saw Girard, a lefty, over there and I went head first (to her left) to try and fill the net as quick as possible,” Chuli said. “I don’t know if I saved it or what hit it.”
She smiled. “That was a big win for us,” she said.
It was the first playoff win for Chuli, who played four years at UConn from 2013-16. She once stopped 69 shots in a Hockey East tournament win over New Hampshire in 2016 and made 72 saves in a two-game Hockey East series win over Maine that same season.
“She is a goalie that can steal a game and I think she did that today,” Whale head coach Colton Orr said. “We had our opportunities on her. You have to bear down especially in the playoffs.”
“They came out with some desperation,” Orr said. “They played a good game and you have to credit what they did and how they stayed with it. What we need is some killer instinct to put them away. It’s tough to finish a series. I think it is one of the hardest games to win, so Monday’s game will be fun.”
Connecticut goalie Abbie Ives was nearly equal to the task. She made 25 saves in regulation and had three big saves in overtime before Wood beat her to the inside of the post.
“Abby has been really good in the playoffs,” Orr said. “She is solid. She gave us some really big ones today to keep us in it We gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Marchment gave the Whale a 1-0 lead in the first period, scoring on a shot in the open ice with 4:14 remaining left in the first period. Connecticut moved the puck well in the first period and outshot the Six, 11-8.
Toronto tied the game at 1-1 with 13:39 left in the second period when Howard took a nice chip from Lindsay Eastwood and got the puck over Ives’ shoulder.
Connecticut responded right away. Shannon Turner made a nice cross-ice pass to Taylor Girard, on her knee, who redirected the puck into the net with 12:16 left for a 2-1 lead. It was Girard’s third goal of the series.
The Six didn’t flinch, scoring a short-handed goal less than a minute later with 11:05 left in the period. Eastwood got a shot on Ives who made the stop. Toronto’s Darryl Watts tapped the puck in the crease for Howard, who swooped in and popped the puck into the net.
“We still haven’t played our best hockey yet in this series,” Marchment said. “That is something we will focus on for game three. I think we had a of chances. Personally, I had two that need to go into the back of the net. It is about focusing and dialing in on these opportunities. That will key for us in game 3.”
The winner of the series will meet either Minnesota or Boston in the one-game Isobel Cup championship game on Sunday, March 26 at the home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes on ESPN 2 at 9 p.m.
Toronto 3, Connecticut 2, OT
Connecticut (1-1) 1 1 0 0 — 2
Toronto (1-1) 0 2 0 1 — 3
Connecticut 1, Kennedy Marchment (Taylor Girard), 15:46; Penalties – Allie Munroe (CT) tripping, 9:39; Emma Woods (T) holding, 12:21; Dominika Laskova (T) holding, 19:21
Toronto 1, Brittany Howard (Breanne Wilson-Bennett, Lindsay Eastwood), 6:21 (sh); Connecticut 2, Taylor Girard (Shannon Turner, Melissa Samoskevich), 7:44 (pp); Toronto 2, Brittany Howard (Daryl Watts, Dominika Laskova), 8:55; Penalties – Shiann Darkangelo (T) cross checking 6:06; Shannon Turner (CT) tripping, 11:13; Dominika Laskova (T) hooking, 12:26
No scoring; Penalties – Taylor Davison (T) hooking, 3:13; Dominika Laskova (T), tripping, 7:31; Shannon Turner (CT) body checking, 10:41
Toronto 4, Emma Woods (Kati Tabin, Shiann Darkangelo), 7:31; Penalties – none
Saves: Elaine Chuli (T) 23, Abbie Ives (CT) 26; Power plays: Connecticut 1-6, Toronto 0-3; Shots: (Connecticut 25 (11-16-8-0), Toronto 29 (8-10-7-4)
Updated Sunday, March 19
2023 PHF playoffs
Thursday, March 16
Minnesota 5, Boston 2
Friday March 17
Connecticut 5, Toronto 3
Saturday, March 18
Toronto 3, Connecticut 2, OT, series tied 1-1
Minnesota 4, Boston 1, Minnesota wins series, 2-0
Monday, March 20
Connecticut at Toronto, 6 p.m.
Sunday, March 26
Isobel Cup championship
Minnesota vs. Connecticut/Toronto winner, 9 p.m. at Arizona State University