At the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Massachusetts, PWHL Boston had their home opener, but they made some early mistakes that cost them the game.
PWHL Boston and PWHL Minnesota played a fast-paced game that wasn't without heavy contact, but also showcased more passing skill and end-to-end action than we've seen in other PWHL action so far. PWHL Boston lost track of their own zone in the first period, though, and gave Minnesota's forwards entirely too much space in the middle of the ice. Both Taylor Heise and Sophia Kunin scored top-shelf laser beams on Aerin Frankel early in the first period – about four minutes apart, and both off of unfortunate turnovers.
While Courtney Kessel eventually willed her team to better defensive zone coverage, those two early goals loomed large throughout the game and forced Boston to play from behind. Theresa Schafzahl and the second line would finally get Boston on the board in the second period, after Sophie Shirley fed Jamie Lee Rattray for a shot. Rattray's shot would deflect high, but Schafzahl gloved it down to herself and ripped a shot past Hensley.
Less than a minute later, though, Boston gave Minnesota room again and this time Grace Zumwinkle made them pay, putting a wicked shot (yes, it was high again) past Frankel from the slot off a pass by Mellissa Channell.
The rest of the game was more or less all Boston. In the third period, Boston briefly thought they had cut the lead to 3-2 on a shot by Alina Müller, but on the replay, it was evident that Hensley had somehow kept the puck out despite being pushed wildly into the net by her own teammate.
Frankel stood tall and made the saves she had to make to keep her team in it, but at the other end, Hensley was withstanding an all-out assault. Excellent positioning by Hensley and smart sticks by Minnesota kept the puck out until a late third-period 6-on-4 power play tally, a rocket by Megan Keller with Frankel on the bench. Boston kept pouring it on, but time simply ran out on them. Hensley made another huge stop at the buzzer for good measure.
Three up, three down
↑ Road warriors – We're still waiting for the first home victory in PWHL history. So far, road teams keep finding the edge over their hosts, and each win has been different – a 4-0 drubbing, outlasting in OT, and in this case, a near-comeback thwarted at the buzzer. It's fun to be on a road trip in the PWHL right now.
↓ Boston's power play – Boston did generate some quality chances, but all personnel seemed to pass up shooting opportunities in favor of trying to set up a teammate – trying to get a perfect shot instead of, say, a juicy rebound. This roster seems tailor-made to get dirty goals on the advantage. A change in approach would go a long way. They converted on only 1 of 4 opportunities on Wednesday.
↑ Massachusetts hockey fans – The first PWHL game in the United States drew a crowd of 4,012 in Lowell, and there were plenty of Boston Blades and Boston Pride jerseys in the crowd. As someone who used to go see the Boston Blades play in front of less than 100 fans at UMass Boston on Sunday mornings, this was really special to see. It wasn't the electric sellout we got to see in Ottawa last night, but it was still a hell of a crowd for a Wednesday night game in Lowell – which is 30 miles from the actual city of Boston.
↓ That PK rule – So far, the PWHL's rule that ends the power play after a shorthanded goal hasn't generated much in the way of "power kills." There has been a lot of aggressive penalty killing, but not much thought towards offense. It seems like shorthanded goals in the PWHL might mostly remain the same as we've known them before – nice to have, but ultimately not worth the risk unless you're really cooking or get a special opportunity.
↑ Nicole Hensley – The goaltender made 33 saves, many of them truly spectacular, en route to PWHL Minnesota's first victory of the season. Boston's desperation generated a ton of quality chances, and she was equal to nearly every one of them, no matter how chaotic the situation around her.
↓ Minnesota's quality versus quantity – That said, Minnesota can't be happy with generating only 16 shots on goal in 60 minutes of hockey. They won't win many games like that in the future, even if they know the goalie's weak spot.
VP's Player of the Game
Kendall Coyne Schofield – The Minnesota captain didn't show up on the scoresheet but was a force to be reckoned with in her first game back since giving birth to her son in June. Elite penalty killing and shot-blocking aren't always first on the list when you name Coyne Schofield's talents, but she did both in Minnesota's first game.