PWHL Semifinals - Game 1: Boston 2, Montreal 1 (OT)
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PWHL Semifinals - Game 1: Boston 2, Montreal 1 (OT)

PWHL Semifinals - Game 1: Boston 2, Montreal 1 (OT) by Zoë Hayden

Montreal could have run away with this, but they didn't. Boston waited around like sleeper agents and turned it on in the third and in overtime to take the first game of the series at Place Bell. The worst that can happen for Boston now is heading back to Tsongas Center for Game 3 in Lowell with the series tied 1-1. Game 2 will be on Saturday at 7:00 PM Eastern at Place Bell.

What happened?

Tension was already high headed into this one, and right before the game, it was announced that Montreal's Sarah Lefort had been suspended for one game for a hit to Jamie Lee Rattray in the final regular season game. Rattray, injured on the play, was out of the lineup for Boston.

Both teams were playing tight in the first period, though Montreal probably had the better opportunities, and Aerin Frankel made several stunning saves, showcasing her mobility and reactive ability in the crease. Boston had two penalties to kill – including one that carried over to the second period – to keep the score 0-0. Some great defensive work by Megan Keller on a drive to the net by Mikyla Grant-Mentis was a difference-maker.

But early in the second, Montreal struck first on a Laura Stacey one-timer that fluttered through Aerin Frankel and settled right on the line. It was batted home by Kristin O'Neill, making it 1-0 for the home team.

Boston would get a chance on the power play with a roughing call to Catherine Dubois, but it was pretty handily killed by Montreal. At this point in the game, Boston was only credited with 4 shots to Montreal's 15.

Montreal got another power play after Hilary Knight shoulder checked O'Neill, which for some reason sent O'Neill flying into Frankel's net. While Boston killed it, it gave way to absolute chaos in their defensive zone. Frankel lost the puck a couple times and somehow Montreal did not score.

Late in the second, Boston had their best offensive zone shift of their evening so far, hemming Montreal in for an extended period and culminating in a backhand from the slot by Alina Müller, but Ann-Renée Desbiens made the save. Boston had finally started forcing the issue, and made it into double digits in shots by the end of the second, but they still hadn't generated much sustained pressure.

Boston came out flying in the third, though. Lexie Adzija and Sophie Shirley generated what might have been the first clean zone entry for Boston. Adzija left it for Shirley who waited patiently for her defender to stop up, shot the puck, and Adzija tipped it on the way to the back of the net, tying the game at 1.

The play seemed to be shifting in Boston's favor when they got a power play out of a slash by Maureen Murphy, but it was to be short-lived as Kelly Babstock was whistled for goaltender interference – an unfortunate call, since Desbiens was well outside of her crease when Babstock made contact. The 4-on-4 was not fruitful for either side, though Montreal buzzed around the net.

Approaching the midpoint of the third, Montreal was doubling Boston up in shots, 30 to 15 – but the game was still tied. Poulin and Keller had words after Montreal's 34th shot, a wraparound chance by the Montreal captain that she got a couple whacks at.

Time wound down with some near misses. Laura Stacey was on essentially a breakaway for what felt like a sure goal, but Frankel at least appeared to lose her grip on her stick and it got in the way. At the other end, it looked like players were expecting a whistle for the puck maybe hitting someone on the bench, and Tapani almost caught Desbiens way out of position, but she covered.

With under four minutes to go, Boston generated a flurry in the offensive zone, with Knight, Müller, and Tapani roaming around. Grant-Mentis nearly had a breakaway, but was closed out by Emily Brown and Megan Keller. Montreal had an offensive zone faceoff with 17 seconds to go, and while Frankel had some trouble freezing the puck, it would go to overtime – the first OT in PWHL playoff history (in case you forgot, it's regular 5v5 periods, 20 minutes each).

Boston came out with the hop to start OT, and had a few quick shots, mostly courtesy of Müller. Stacey tried the wraparound again, and the puck came to rest in the blue paint, but Frankel got back across her crease quickly to keep it out with the glove as Mélodie Daoust got a stick on it.

The officials tagged Megan Keller for slashing to give Montreal a chance on the power play. Laura Stacey came close several times, but ultimately Boston killed the penalty.

The clock feels like it obeys different rules in overtime. Suddenly time was ticking down to less than 6 minutes to go in the first OT, and Boston's top line was pouring it on. Megan Keller's high shot bounced free from Desbiens, who was out to challenge, as Theresa Schafzahl crashed the net to poke it loose. The puck got behind Desbiens and went across the paint, where Susanna Tapani was waiting back door to put it home and give Boston the series lead, 2-1 in overtime.

Three up, three down

↑ Aerin Frankel – One of the most bizarre, but effective, 53-save performances you'll ever see. Sometimes she was out of position, flying across the crease in desperation. At one point she definitely seemed to let go of her goal stick to disrupt Laura Stacey closing on her, which is illegal, but she played it very smooth and didn't get called (and who's to say it wasn't a happy accident?). Sometimes the puck was behind her, sometimes it was in the air around her, and sometimes there was a shooter on her doorstep looking at a wide-open net. But she made the save. If Montreal's shooters elevate the puck over her pads more often... who's to say? She made the saves. 53 of them – a new PWHL record. Boston won Game 1 because Aerin Frankel was exactly where she needed to be, whether by earthly powers or otherwise.

↓ Boston, turning over the engine – It took a LONG time for Boston to get going. The key was in the ignition, and they were cranking it, but it didn't hum to life. With just two shots in the first period, they mustered only 8 in each of the remaining frames. A switch flipped in the third period – suddenly, they were protecting the puck well and knew where to direct it. They were receiving passes tape-to-tape and cycling a little in the offensive zone. The shot total didn't exactly explode, but they started playing the right way. The caveat here is that they can't start slow like this again and expect to win two more against Montreal.

↑ Overtime in Laval – It was electric. The home fans didn't get the outcome they wanted, but the atmosphere and the drama were exactly what we all know and love about playoff overtime. Official attendance was given as 9,135 and it sounded like most of them were booing after the Tapani goal.

↓ The officiating – Was a little rough, to say the least. Babstock's goaltender interference penalty was not reasonable. They let a lot of things go that could have been called, and some of the whistles that did go weren't quite right. Ultimately it didn't adversely affect the outcome, but you have to hope it's a little smoother in Game 2.

↑ Quality not quantity – It has borne out many times in the PWHL this season that shot volume doesn't translate to wins. Boston out-shot their opponent in 12 of their 24 games this regular season, and only won six times. They won five times while being out-shot. For Montreal's part, they have 8 wins while being out-shot, including twice while being out-shot by 20 SOG (!). The only game of the regular season where they had a shot differential advantage in the double digits (+12), they lost – to Boston, in overtime, at home, on January 13. This time, they more than doubled up Boston's total, 54 to 26, but had to take the L.

This isn't to say that Montreal didn't generate quality opportunities. They certainly did and it's shocking to think how many of them didn't go in. But having the run of the play doesn't always suit this Montreal team, for whatever reason.

↓ Managing minutes – Both teams had some players with very limited time, and I'm not sure if that might cost them.

For Boston, Abby Cook skated 0:00 and Jess Healey just 3:05. Megan Keller ate 37:33, which is giving me flashbacks to the 2022 Olympics. Keller played a largely excellent game, though she did take some penalties that you don't love to see including the slash in OT, and she could have been whistled for some late contact or roughing that the refs let go. I don't love that Boston is essentially running 5D and I'm not sure how that looks over the course of a five-game series that has already had a long overtime. Keller was essential for Boston on Thursday and played a smart defensive game, but I don't know that 37:33 (even considering the OT) is sustainable for her.

Montreal's fourth line of Leah Lum, Jillian Dempsey, and Alexandra Poznikoff didn't see the ice tonight. Montreal's top six are certainly the game-changers, but I don't know that Boston was so threatening, especially in the early going, that the fourth line couldn't be trusted for an offensive zone faceoff or two. Surely they would be motivated. Home team gets the last change, after all. Per Jared Book at HEOTP, Kori Cheverie is aware that they'll need to get them on the ice eventually – it's a long series.

VP's Player of the Game

Mikyla Grant-Mentis – With a game-high 8 shots on goal, I had MGM picked to be the one who ended it in overtime if Montreal prevailed. She was the best of anyone at finding the middle of the ice, which felt maddeningly inaccessible for most of this game. But she has the formula against a Boston defense that can be very stingy off the rush, and I expect her to be rewarded very soon.

  • Game replay link (YouTube) – The PWHL has started posting "condensed game archive" video, after taking their videos private after broadcast as of late. Check their video uploads page for the game archive content as it becomes available. (This game is not yet as of press time.)
  • Game data

(Photo: Pascal Ratthé/PWHL)