Pride advance to Isobel Cup, the position they were in a year ago

Michelle Jay

In an alternate universe, the Boston Pride played for an Isobel Cup at their home arena a year ago.

The Pride were supposed to face the Whitecaps to fight for their second league title at Warrior Ice Arena before Covid changed those plans. Then, they got off to a shaky start at Lake Placid in January, and it looked like the Pride might have missed that window.

They turned things on late in their last two games before the season was postponed; they didn’t play again until Friday, this time on their home ice, against top-seeded Toronto.

You wouldn’t have known this wasn’t the Boston group that lost one game all last season. In their 6-2 dominant win over the Six, the Pride looked a lot like what one might imagine an Isobel Cup game a year ago may have looked like.

“There were some good things we did and some things we can do better,” said Pride head coach Paul Mara. “There’s some things we didn’t do so well. We’ll talk tomorrow morning about what we can do to be successful tomorrow night.”

Much like in Lake Placid, the Pride jumped out a 1-0 start. They gave up the lead four times up there, and it took until their final two games in Buffalo to figure things out and expand the lead.

They scored in bunches on Friday, scoring two goals in under a minute twice, the first time to jump out 2-0 and the second time to make it 4-1.

Some thoughts on how the Pride advanced to their fourth ever Isobel Cup.

[NWHL: Whitecaps roll right back into Isobel Cup]

Defense stepped up later

The Pride defense didn’t look good early, there’s no way around it.

Toronto found ways to get around the Boston defenders and to the netfront with ease, but once the Pride defense tightened up, Toronto couldn’t get looks.

The Pride jumped out 2-0 before the Six tallied off the stick of Breanne Wilson-Bennett from a terrific Mikyla Grant-Mentis feed, but after that, their chances dissipated until Grant-Mentis tallied late.

Boston’s offense succeeds when its defense is involved. League point leader Kayleigh Fratkin, a defender, was involved in the offense all day, and blueliner Mallory Souliotis scored her fourth goal of the season.

The Lovisa Selander show

Early on, the Pride defense surrendered plenty of chances to the Six right in front of the net. They easily could have jumped out ahead and Boston wouldn’t have had a chance to get going.

Second-year goalie Lovisa Selander, though, stood on her head and made 10 first period saves to keep the Pride in it and give them a chance to jump out 2-0. She finished with 25 saves.

McKenna Brand makes her mark

Brand got off to a slow start in Lake Placid but ended up ranking fourth in points. She was all over the ice on Friday to lead the Pride offense.

First, she made a slick play to keep the puck in the offensive end which led to Jillian Dempsey’s goal to make it 2-0 in the first period.

Then, she tallied her own goal where she picked up a rebound and poked it past Six goalie Elaine Chuli to expand the Pride lead to 4-1.

Brand playing well is dangerous for just about everyone who has to face her. The Boston top line, with Dempsey and Putigna playing alongside her, has the potential to dominate before opposing teams have a chance.

Friday, March 26

• Boston Pride 6, Toronto Six 2 (recap)
• Minnesota Whitecaps, 7 Connecticut Whale 0 (recap)

Saturday, March 27

• Boston Pride vs. Minnesota Whitecaps – 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (livestream)

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Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.