Secret Sauce: Montreal 2, Boston 1 (OT)
- 5 min read

Secret Sauce: Montreal 2, Boston 1 (OT)

Secret Sauce: Montreal 2, Boston 1 (OT) by Zoë Hayden

Montreal traveled to Massachusetts for the first time and worked their magic to win their third straight. While Montreal often finds themselves in close games like this, they seem to just have an extra gear they can kick into to come out on top.

What happened?

The difference in the first period wasn't the power play for Montreal (surprise) but the power play did shift momentum away from Boston after they got the first few chances. From that point forward, Aerin Frankel was busy, and a ridiculous series of passes up high in the zone between Marie-Philip Poulin, Maureen Murphy, and Erin Ambrose set up the opening tally. It started with Murphy feeding Ambrose at the point, who then flipped it to Poulin lurking at the blueline. Poulin put a snazzy pass back to Murphy along the boards, who then played catch with Poulin again, distracting the Boston defense while Ambrose headed deep. Poulin then pushed it back to Ambrose at the hashmarks, who cut in front of the net and beat Frankel with a backhand. It was an amazing bit of diversion by Murphy and Poulin and it put Ambrose in an excellent position to score by drawing two Boston defenders. (Not long after, Sophie Jaques tried the same sort of move that Ambrose did on Elaine Chuli, but it didn't go for her.)

Boston came out buzzing in the second and dominated possession after being held to only 4 shots in the first period, and earned a power play, but they couldn't score. When Montreal pushed back, Boston got sloppy, taking a roughing call by way of Jessica DiGirolamo, but Montreal's league-worst power play did the job again (though they did almost get an own goal on a weird bounce off of Chuli's skate). Another late penalty to Madison Bizal put Boston back on the advantage, but the period would end the same way it started. Chuli was altogether outstanding, directing her rebounds well and limiting second opportunities.

Sophie Shirley tied the game up about four minutes into the third period, capitalizing on turnover forced by Hannah Brandt. Brandt picked off an attempt to reverse the puck along the boards by Sarah Bujold in the Montreal zone and fed Shirley driving the net, who didn't hesitate with her shot to beat Chuli and score her first goal of the season. Boston continued to apply great pressure, but didn't capitalize on some very close chances (including Jamie Lee Rattray hitting the post on a wide-open net from in tight after Mariah Keopple cleared the puck right to her stick), and Montreal started charging their attack again.

Frankel was strong to keep Boston in it as well, and the home team came tantalizingly close on a shot by Keller from the high slot and could have ended it in regulation – but time wound down. Once overtime hit, Boston had their chances, but Chuli held them off. Poulin, Ambrose, and Stacey combined for the game-winner, with Poulin and Ambrose orchestrating the zone entry while Stacey went unmarked to the side of the net. Ambrose hit her stick with a perfect pass, and there was no way she was going to miss, giving Boston the 2-1 OT victory.

Three up, three down

↑ Laura Stacey – What else can you even say about her? She's perhaps the best player I've ever seen at creating legit, grade-A scoring opportunities from absolutely nothing. A smart forechecking play that might delay the opposition's zone exit for one player is something that Stacey can turn into a quality shot on net. Most skaters manage their risk when they see a loose puck and a wide gap between them and the opponent going after it – they make a safe play and use their body to make sure that player doesn't have a lot of room when they retrieve it. But Laura Stacey can beat pretty much anybody to a loose puck and test the goaltender instead. She generated several chances this way in this game, and while her OT winner was more a "right place, right time" tally, it was fitting that she got rewarded for her relentless work. This is going to happen with Stacey a lot this season. Sometimes the puck finds her, but a lot of the time, it's Stacey finding the puck.

↓ Three points – The top and bottom of the PWHL standings are a lesson in getting extra points. Montreal and Ottawa both only have one regulation loss in their records this season, but Montreal has won 3 of 5 games that have gone to extra time, whereas Ottawa has lost 4 of 4. Montreal would love to be getting more 3-point wins to solidify their top spot, but so far, they're making it work by razor-thin margins. They're the only team in the league who seems to be able to reliably do so which could take them the distance in this first PWHL season. Postseason performance isn't just based on vibes, but they certainly help.

↑ Elaine Chuli – Chuli is undefeated in 3 starts with a league-leading 0.962 save percentage. It's a small sample size, but at this point in the season, Chuli looks like the most valuable backup goaltender in the PWHL.

↓ Boston's forward lines – Something still isn't clicking with Boston's offense overall, though they are getting their shots and opportunities. It seems to be a chemistry issue more than anything, similar to the woes of Toronto that have been talked about a lot more. Hilary Knight seemed to allude to this in her pregame interview on the broadcast – they're just not translating to game action yet. The blueprint is there (they force turnovers, they create opportunistic chances, and most of the time they defend very well). Most clearly, it seems like Boston's forward core isn't quite finishing what their defense is starting from the back end – there's a disconnect in how to use the whole offensive zone. Montreal beat them based on creativity and speed and great connections between D and F. More offense will come for Boston but right now they're still kind of finding themselves. The fact remains that they had a lot of chances to take the lead – and just couldn't finish.

↑ Lowell crowds – Boston consistently is drawing over 4,000 fans to the Tsongas Center, and they're loud. If they're pulling that many people consistently to a small city 30 miles outside of Boston, that speaks well to what they could draw in a bigger, more centrally-located rink.

↓ Montreal's power play, still – The skater advantage for Montreal fell to just 3.8% after Sunday's game. But that doesn't seem to be bothering them, does it?

VP's Player of the Game

Erin Ambrose – Both her goal and her assist illustrated why she's one of the best at her position in the world. Women's hockey has always showcased extremely mobile and creative defenders, but the physicality and close-checking style of this league has turned down the volume on them at times and forced them to play more "traditional" defense. But Montreal's coaching staff really gives defenders freedom to do the unexpected. It's a team effort with forwards covering for her and giving her time and space, too. Ambrose is thriving in this environment and it's cool to see her get a special goal like her opening tally.

(Photo: Michael Riley/PWHL)