WOBURN, Mass. -- Playoff hockey often comes down to which team has the hottest goaltender. Right now, there might be no one more in the zone than Woburn's Courtney Davis.
The sophomore showed why she was named to first-team on ESPN Boston's preseason All-State team, stopping 31 shots (18 in the second period alone) and guiding the fifth-seeded Tanners to a 1-0 shutout of Middlesex League rival and No. 12 seed Lexington Saturday night at O'Brien Arena.
"It was a season-saving performance," said Woburn coach Bob MacCurtain, mincing no words when asked about the importance of his sophomore's performance. "In the second period, we really bent and she allowed us not to break. Lexington played terrific. They had so many chances, one on the back door that she just slid across and made a great save."
After a fairly even and scoreless first period, the Minutemaids (14-7-1) came out like gangbusters, taking control of the game and forcing to make four difficult stops in the first few minutes alone. That was a harbinger of what was to come, as Lexington kept the heat on and continued to get tremendous scoring opportunities, only to see them glance off Davis' blocker and leg pads or disappear into glove.
When asked about hr mindset during the onslaught, Davis simply replied, "I don’t know really. I was just kind of...it was do or die so I was trying to not let let the puck go in. It was all over the place. I don’t think, I just do it I guess. I think they just came out really strong and played their hearts out that period. They tried to get as many shots on net as possible."
At the other end of the ice, Lexington goalie Katie Legnard more than held her own against the dangerous Tanners attack, making 19 tough saves of her own, and the two netminders kept things scoreless until the third period.
That's when Woburn's other preseason first-team All-State selection, forward Kayla Smith, broke through. Ashley Moran got off a shot from the Lexington blue line that was blocked by a defender. Smith chased down the puck in the high slot and fired past Legnard at 4:07.
"It was one of the few times that we actually had a really good possession in the offensive zone," Smith explained. "Coach said to get a lot of pucks to the net and it was a good opportunity so I just shot it."
STRATEGY CHANGE PAYING DIVIDENDS
Following the Tanners' 3-2 loss to Belmont back in January, MacCurtain decided to change things around. He dropped Moran, who had been playing on the first line with Smith and Bryana Harron, back to play defense with veteran standout Cassandra Connolly while bumping sophomore Emily Lissner (the team's fourth-leading scorer) up in her place.
The move is reminiscent of the change the Hingham girls made toward the end of last season, moving Jane Freda up from defense to the top line, a change that helped propel the Harborwomen to the Div. 1 state championship.
With Lissner up top, Woburn loses nothing offensively. Moran has taken to the defensive role naturally, and along with Connolly, provides an aggressive, offensive minded approach from the back as well. That tactic came in handy Friday with Moran getting the assist on Smith's tally.
"I thought she did a great job," MacCurtain said of Moran. "I thought her and Cassandra were real solid up top and that was a great play on the goal. She’s a goal scorer who is playing back at the blue line so its been a good change for us."
A widely used cliche in sports is that it's difficult to beat the same team three times in the same season. Woburn and Lexington had already battled to a pair of one-goal, Tanner victories in the regular season so both teams were more than prepared for each other.
Lexington outshot Woburn in all three periods (31-20 for the game), and notably dominated the pace during the second. Even on the play that resulted in Woburn's lone goal, the Minutemaids made a good play to block the initial shot. It was, as another well-worn cliche goes, just one of those days.
"Our kids had worked hard all game and I think it was just an unlucky bounce," Lexington coach Mandy Ciarletta said. "The girl shot it through traffic and it just snuck in at the end there. My kids did everything in the 'D' zone and like I said, a one-goal game. 1-0 in the third, it's going to be anybody’s game. I knew going in it was going to be one goal one way or the other, whether we came out on top or they did. Woburn’s a great club and it was a great exciting game to be a part of today."