PWHL Semifinals Preview: Boston vs. Montreal
- 11 min read

PWHL Semifinals Preview: Boston vs. Montreal

PWHL Semifinals Preview: Boston vs. Montreal by Zoë Hayden

Toronto picked Minnesota as their semifinals opponent, which set up Boston and Montreal for a rematch of their final game of the regular season that promises to be physical and hotly contested.


Montreal and Boston played each other four times during the regular season and split their season series, with Boston winning the first meeting and last meeting, and Montreal winning the two games in the middle.

What happened?

Three one-goal games, including a pair of overtimes, and each meeting between these two clubs felt like an instant classic. Something about playing Montreal seems to suit PWHL Boston – they play more physical and more organized against them and bring a certain intensity to the ice that they have, at times, lacked throughout the regular season. Montreal would probably agree – the games they won against Boston were some of their grittiest wins of the year. To put it simply, these teams bring out the best in each other.

For Montreal's part, you could argue that they owned the season series by a very narrow margin, scoring 10 goals to Boston's 9. Boston had success against Ann-Renée Desbiens but struggled against Elaine Chuli, who was in net for the only game of the season series that was decided by more than one goal. Aerin Frankel started for all of Boston's games against Montreal, so their record is her record – she also got the split.

These games were also not without drama, whether it was a disallowed goal, controversial penalties, or non-calls. There's also plenty of carryover from the IIHF Women's World Championship, such as the famous GIF I like to call MPP's Revenge (Canada went on to win this game after Hilary Knight scored with Poulin in the box):

It's hard to believe we get even more of this matchup so soon. We should all fear for our health and sanity.

Vibe check Montreal

Montreal earned their #2 spot in the league standings, without a doubt, but their late-season record had some cause for concern. They lost four straight headed into the international break, but won 3 of 5 to close out the season. One of those victories was an all-out steal by Ann-Renée Desbiens to demoralize an Ottawa team fighting for their lives to make the postseason.

A goalie stealing a game is of course a wonderful thing – but it also raises the specter of a game that looks much different if a bounce goes the other way. That said, Montreal has a way of winning handily when they're being out-shot – it's happened in all three of their victories since the break, and many other times throughout their regular season. Regular hockey math doesn't apply to Montreal. They just find a way to win. No matter what shape the victory takes, you can't count this Montreal team out. They have too many X-factors.

Vibe check Boston

Boston seemed tagged to miss the playoffs, with Ottawa on the ascent and Minnesota needing just one point to clinch. Their offense had felt stagnant all season, and surely the dynamic rosters of Ottawa and Minnesota would edge them out of the playoff picture.

But that's why you actually play the games instead of simulating them. Ottawa couldn't eke out the points they needed, and Minnesota went on an impressive five-game skid to close the season. Meanwhile, Boston hit the ground running after the international break, winning 4 games in regulation and picking up a point in a shootout loss to Ottawa. Three of those victories were by a score of 2-1, demonstrating that they can shut down a close game and get the W even when margins are tight – including Hannah Brandt's spectacular buzzer-beater. They held off Montreal in their final game, scoring another late goal to win 4-3.

This is a team that fought their way into the playoffs. Not panicking with a one-goal lead or in a tie can certainly help. But their 4-3 win over Montreal also demonstrated a need for insurance goals. They'll need to get more of those if they want a chance to beat Montreal.

Who to watch

Hannah Brandt scored at a point-per-game pace against Montreal, with 1 goal and 3 assists. No one else on PWHL Boston has more points against them, though Hilary Knight also has 2 goals and an assist. They will need to continue that pace if they want to have success in this series. But Alina Müller looked in rare form on the power play against them in the last game of the season as well. If Müller gets going, Boston's offense takes on a whole new dimension.

Outside of the top six forwards, I would also look to Megan Keller and Kaleigh Fratkin to keep stretching the offensive zone, and for Boston's fourth line to force the issue. While they haven't produced much, Gigi Marvin has excelled throughout the season at forcing turnovers, no matter what zone the puck is in, and surprising Montreal on a change would be a great way to disrupt their flow.

From Montreal's side, there's no shortage of names who could step up. Everyone expects Marie-Philip Poulin to perform – if she's healthy and she's in a big game, she's scoring. Defender Erin Ambrose has 4 goals on the season, and three of those came against Boston.

I would generally look to the blueline as one place where this series can be won and lost. Boston's defense overall has a more stay-at-home mindset (Keller notwithstanding), while Montreal's complement of defenders is a bit more mobile in the offensive zone, which can leave them vulnerable in certain matchups. The team that has the most success at the offensive blueline – whether that's generating offense or simply preventing clean breakouts for the other team – will probably take the series.

You can expect Desbiens and Aerin Frankel in net as a rematch of the USA-Canada gold medal game in Utica earlier this year. If either goaltender runs into trouble, Elaine Chuli was the best backup in the PWHL this season, and Emma Söderberg is frankly a luxury to have as a #2 goalie. The matchups in goal are incredibly close.


I think it goes to 5 games, and if I absolutely had to pick, I think Montreal wins the fifth game.

Hidden stat?

In their first three meetings this season, neither team had scored a power play goal on 15 combined opportunities. Then, on May 4, Montreal's Mikyla Grant-Mentis scored on the advantage twice. While Montreal's top unit had started clicking as of late, both of Grant-Mentis's goals came from the second unit. Montreal's power play was maligned all season, but now seems to be finding its groove at just the right time – and not just its superstars. Boston was lucky to escape with a regulation win against Montreal and catapult themselves into the postseason, after surrendering a 3-goal lead to one of the most unpredictable offenses in the PWHL. As Kori Cheverie will tell you, Montreal doesn't need special teams to win games (though it helps).

Boston will, however, need to excel 5-on-5 and be opportunistic. Finishing ability will be at a premium. During the regular season, Boston had the lowest shooting percentage in the PWHL, just over 7%. While they have generated more shots than Montreal over the course of the season (695 to Montreal's 669), they have buried far fewer goals, with just 49. In short: Boston made it into the playoffs with the league-worst offense. But they're heating up at the right time. If Boston starts finishing a few more of their scoring opportunities, that makes the series even closer.


"We're extremely excited to be a part of the playoff picture and extremely honored to represent Boston this way. We welcome any opponent, and we're really excited to be able to have an opportunity to face off against Montreal. We've had an awesome stretch here since that month-long break, and it's just a testament to the type of people that we have in the room. I wouldn't want to go to battle with any other group." – Boston captain Hilary Knight

"I think it's a new season. You know, we had a great ending, and we came on hot after Worlds, but it's this is playoff hockey and anything can happen. I think we need to continue our momentum. And that's just playing the way that we play. And I think the break did obviously help us – I feel like it just helped us regroup a little bit. And I think we saw that in our last five games here." – Boston head coach Courtney Kessel

"I have a big passion for living in that city for a handful years that I was able to do that and [representing] Montreal during that time. But I understand playoff hockey is a completely different beast. I'm just really looking forward to – whether that's getting booed or whatever that looks like just that fan engagement – people showing up for playoffs. It's extremely exciting to keep this rivalry going, being now on the Boston side again. It's one of the better rivalries in pro sports, especially for hockey. So I can't wait for puck drop. Can't wait to get up there and just soak it all in." – Knight, on playing for Boston again after having been on Les Canadiennes in the CWHL

"We only have six teams in our league. So we've seen [Montreal] four times, and every other team five. I'm not too sure the game plan changes. I think we stick to what's working. The last five games has been a tremendous build for us heading in the playoffs and I think we just continue to build on that. I don't think anything changes." – Kessel

"I think we all understand how critical it was to have this stage of the professional level and something that we've longed for for many, many years and built on shoulders that have come before us for many years prior. We were actually talking about this a couple of days ago. I mean, three is almost too short. One and done is not the best matchup of a true team. And seven can be too long – you can let a team back in. So I think five is a great number to to really prove that you're a better team and you're able to shut the door on somebody's season, which is one of the hardest things to do, especially at this level." – Knight on having a best-of-five series

"Obviously, Montreal is quite the city to be in in terms of sport. Very excited to be here. Habs are out, Rocket are out. We're really lucky to be able to actually play in Place Bell and be able to be there. Thursday can't come quick enough. We're super excited to start the playoffs here in Montreal. Going against Boston's gonna be very exciting and it's gonna be a fun series." – Montreal captain Marie-Philip Poulin

"Practice time and rest and recovery [are] at a premium in this league. And, you know, just very grateful and thankful that we have the opportunity to stay at home. I feel for for the teams that are are needing to figure out their travel plans as we speak. It's not an easy situation to be in, that's for sure. It brings a little more drama to the league, a little more fun for everybody and for the fans. With our group obviously, you know, we like where we're at as a team but you know – a couple more practices to refine some things and allow our players to get some extra rest and recovery at home." – Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie (on the benefit of the extra day off for her team and having home ice advantage)

"Over the last 24 games, fans have gotten the chance to know every player on different teams, and that's the best part about this league. Having the visibility on TV, on social media, fans getting to know players... It's been unbelievable. And obviously I'm very lucky to be part of that. Being able to play against Hilary Knight, but there's a lot of good players. It's gonna be on the ice on Thursday, for the next five games, and it's gonna be exciting. It's gonna be a battle. It's gonna be competitive, but it's always such an honor to to play against Hilary Knight because there's such a respect there for what she's done for women's hockey, for what she's done for hockey. And again, the way we play on the ice, it's – we're not friends out there, but when it's time to shake your hands there's a lot of respect there, that's for sure." – Poulin on playing against Hilary Knight

"The way [Kori Cheverie] coaches, how she approaches the game, how detail-oriented she is... it's been unbelievable. We've been so lucky here in Montreal to have Kori in charge and having a coaching staff in our whole organization working together has been unbelievable. I mean, I know Birch, I know Courtney, she's been with us on the national team. No surprise there that she's in the playoff. What she's doing with the team and how they showed up the last game – they needed to win that game, and they did. I've got, again, a lot of respect for that. Obviously the players, they do that stuff on the ice, but when you have a great coaching staff behind you that guides you in the right way, it does go a long way. For me personally, I can't say enough about Kori and how lucky we are to be to have her in Montreal, and the whole coaching staff." – Poulin on her coach Kori Cheverie, and on Boston's head coach Courtney Kessel ("Birch" for her maiden name Birchard)

"It's a long series, but you do have to be able to take it one game at a time. It's something where you have to be able to also move on quickly as a coach and as an athlete. Pou spoke to it – I can't say enough amazing things about about our staff and the level of preparation that has already gone into playoffs. With whoever we were going to face, we were ready. It's our job to make sure that our athletes are ready, but with the athletes that we have in the room and the level of execution... just the openness and the ability to just be coached and take take information and and be able to apply it. I can't say enough amazing things about our team and our athletes. They've really trusted us and we trust them, and I think that that's a pretty amazing dynamic to have going into a playoff run." – Cheverie

Women's Hockey History Mini-Break

The last time Boston and Montreal met in a women's hockey playoff situation was the 2015 Clarkson Cup Final in Markham, Ontario, with the Boston Blades and the Montreal Stars meeting in the single-game championship. From that team, Ann-Sophie Bettez returns for Montreal (though she is expected to miss the playoffs with injury); and Hilary Knight and Kaleigh Fratkin return for Boston. Jillian Dempsey played for that Boston Blades team as well and went on to have a storied tenure with the Boston Pride, but now she's on the Montreal side. Boston won the game with an OT snipe by Janine Weber.

There are truly so many connections between these two teams that I think make this series even more intense. They may be in the inaugural PWHL season, but it's been a wild ride to get there. It's going to be a great series.


  • Game 1: Thursday, May 9 @ 7:00 PM Eastern | Place Bell, Laval, Quebec
  • Game 2: Saturday, May 11 @ 7:00 PM Eastern | Place Bell, Laval, Quebec
  • Game 3: Tuesday, May 14 @ 7:00 PM Eastern | Tsongas Center, Lowell, Massachusetts
  • Game 4: Thursday, May 16 @ 7:00 PM Eastern | Tsongas Center, Lowell, Massachusetts *
  • Game 5: Sunday, May 19 @ 7:00 PM Eastern| Tsongas Center, Lowell, Massachusetts *

* Games 4 & 5 if necessary.

All games will air on TSN and RDS in Canada, on NESN in New England, and on the PWHL's YouTube channel.

(Photo: Meghan Murphy/PWHL Boston)