PWHL Semifinals - Game 2: Boston 2, Montreal 1 (3OT)
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PWHL Semifinals - Game 2: Boston 2, Montreal 1 (3OT)

PWHL Semifinals - Game 2: Boston 2, Montreal 1 (3OT) by Zoë Hayden

Welcome to the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition of Game 1. We got the same result, but it took a hell of a lot longer to get there. Montreal has only managed to score two goals on Aerin Frankel, and now they're headed to Boston's barn facing elimination.

For Montreal, Sarah Lefort returned from serving her one-game suspension, while Jamie Lee Rattray remained out of the lineup for Boston.

What happened?

Ten periods of hockey, 186 minutes and 9 seconds – equivalent to three regulation hockey games and some change. 120 minutes would be the norm for two games, and they've far surpassed that already. Surely neither team is pleased with the fact that they haven't been able to put an opponent away in a more reasonable amount of time – but Boston will take the result, because they have Montreal on the brink, and that's not something anyone would have necessarily expected heading into this series.

Boston came out to prove that they were not having a slow start, and it was an evenly matched first few minutes. Courtney Kessel's fourth line opened the scoring, with Taylor Wenczkowski passing the puck to Amanda Pelkey behind the net. Pelkey threw it on Desbiens from the corner and it bounced into the back of the net, giving Boston an early 1-0 lead.

Montreal had some great chances – including a 2-on-1 with Kristin O'Neill throwing it on net with Laura Stacey driving the net for the rebound – but Aerin Frankel made the stop. While Boston got a power play on an interference call to Amanda Boulier, they did not extend their lead.

It was Montreal's chance on the power play early in the second, and while Frankel was sharp to a few dangerous shots, it became a 1-1 tie game on a rebound picked up by Kristin O'Neill. Montreal pushed the pace after their goal, and started generating more time in the offensive zone, but the period would end with the score still knotted.

Both sides seemed conscious that the next mistake could decide the game, and there was some tentative back-and-forth. With about eight minutes left, Montreal's top line crashed the net around Frankel, who lost her goal stick, but despite loose pucks in the paint nobody could put anything home. Another scramble in front of Frankel led to a near-brawl between Emily Brown and Gabrielle David, and Pelkey laid what should have been a boarding minor on Mariah Keopple – but play went on.

It's been so loud in Place Bell that it was difficult to hear whistles. This resulted in a lengthy review with 30 seconds to go in regulation. The official tried to blow a play dead, having lost sight of the puck in Frankel's equipment. It popped free and was in the back of the net – but the whistle had gone and the review upheld the on-ice call. Stacey nearly ended it in the final seconds after shrugging free of a check and whipping it towards the net from the slot, but it was wide. And we were headed to overtime again.

6:20 into the first overtime, Lexie Adzija cut in front of Laura Stacey trying to play the puck, and made shoulder contact with Stacey's face mask. Stacey went flying, and Adzija was bafflingly assessed not just a 5-minute major for a hit to the head, but a match penalty for "attempt to injure" – on contact that seemed purely incidental and unintentional. The call was reviewed, at length, twice. Adzija left the game and the league will have to decide if further discipline is warranted before Game 3 on Tuesday. Montreal failed to score on the extended major penalty as well as a delay of game call to Megan Keller.

At the end of first overtime, Mélodie Daoust was assessed a roughing penalty for a late hit on Kaleigh Fratkin. Boston didn't score on the power play in the second overtime, but forced Desbiens to make a few saves.

By this point, I had lost track of how many grade-A scoring chances Laura Stacey had on Frankel. How she didn't end it will be debated for generations – but I think a huge part of it was that Boston was anticipating the options she created, and made sure to limit the amount of space she had to work with, forcing her to shoot or make a move more quickly than she would like. Which is not a small task. The game went to a third OT.

Boston had seemed to hold possession better in the second OT, but in the third OT, Montreal came out pushing harder. Erin Ambrose's blast from the point generated a huge pad save by Frankel, and the puck trickled by the post and behind the goal. That was the moment for the home team – and it didn't end up in the back of the net.

That set up the play that finally ended it. Boston got another OT hero in the form of Taylor Wenczkowski. Sidney Morin took the puck around behind the net and threw it in front. Wenczkowski got a whack at it, and found space five-hole on Desbiens for the rebound to send this series back to Lowell with a commanding 2-0 lead.

Three up, three down

↑ Boston's bottom six – Susanna Tapani's OT goal on Thursday is the only production Boston has gotten in this series from their top line – but that's all they've needed. Both of Boston's goals on Saturday night (creeping into Sunday morning...) came from their fourth line, and their regulation tally on Thursday came from the third line. Courtney Kessel's bottom six are absolutely owning the matchups they are given and are coming out with game-changing goals.

↓ Montreal's full lineup – So, what's Montreal's response to getting stunned by Taylor Wenczkowski? Kori Cheverie has been consistently double-shifting their top line and top d-pair, and heavily limiting the minutes in the bottom half of her lineup, with several players skating under 2 minutes – Jillian Dempsey 1:37, Brigitte Laganière 0:12, Madison Bizal 0:35. Leah Lum saw just 4:15, Catherine Daoust just 5:56. These are low totals in a regulation game, but shocking in a triple overtime.

In a game where Montreal's top players skated objectively punishing minutes (Erin Ambrose, 61:33; Kati Tabin, 56:49; Laura Stacey, 52:30) , one wonders how much fatigue and rhythm factored in to Boston's game-winner.

Laganière, Catherine Daoust, Catherine Dubois, and Dempsey were on the ice for the early Pelkey goal and that seemed to play in to how they were utilized (or not utilized) for the rest of the game – particularly Laganière and Dempsey. When fresh legs could have helped Montreal, they weren't used.

On the flip side, Courtney Kessel managed Megan Keller's ice much more closely in this game 2 (40:49 in a 3OT game!), and used her entire lineup to get this win (despite having her seventh defender, Abby Cook, riding the bench). When Kessel needed fresh legs, she put them out, and got the game-winner out of Wenczkowski whose final TOI was 12:42. It's a team win for Boston, and a frustrating situation for Montreal to say the least.

↑ Even – As opposed to the massive blowout in shots that Boston faced last game, they kept relative pace with Montreal in this one, tallying 52 shots to Montreal's 57. Both teams are getting outstanding performances in net from Ann-Renée Desbiens and Aerin Frankel. It's not so much a goaltender battle as a war of attrition.

↓ Offense??? – Boston coming into the playoffs with the league-worst offense looks a lot less problematic now that they've won two games on the strength of goaltending and team defense. "Defense wins championships" is easy to say, but harder to put into practice when you don't have the offense to back it up. But Boston is out-waiting Montreal to find that game-breaking scoring opportunity. Montreal built their season record on being able to create that opportunity themselves, sometimes out of thin air. So far, that instinct to create first is backfiring on them and Boston has turned this series on its head by playing a simple game at their own defensive blueline and forcing Montreal back over and over again. The more they frustrate Montreal's goal-scorers, the more Montreal tries to force offense, and it's playing into Boston's hands.

↑ Extra travel day – Mercifully, the teams get a travel day and then an additional day before coming together for Game 3 on Tuesday. I'm extremely interested to hear how each team manages their recovery. The first two games of this series have been physically grueling. Will that change in Game 3? Could we get an insurance goal of some kind for either side? Maybe even a regulation decision?

↓ Officiating, still – You'd like to see one game of this series end without a massively controversial call. Adzija's match penalty for "intent to injure" means an automatic suspension until further review can take place. Player safety is important and discouraging head hits in a contact league is a top priority, but this particular incident does not seem to warrant the "intent to injure" that was ascribed. Call a major if you must, but intent to injure? Where's the evidence of that?

Along with that, there were plenty of quick whistles for pucks that were not frozen, and a couple missed calls for illegal contact that really stood out. Taken altogether, it feels like the league is really trying to send a message with this penalty to Adzija – but that message rings hollow when it feels like the wrong call and there are other basic things that the on-ice officials aren't getting quite right.

VP's Player of the Game

Jessica Digirolamo – What a monster game from the Boston defender. With 47:59, she led all Boston D in ice time, and was frequently matched up against Montreal's top line of Poulin, Stacey, and O'Neill. She was a force in boxing them out and preventing clean zone entries. She was also generating offensive opportunities by carrying the puck in herself (including that fabulous end-to-end sequence) and orchestrating breakouts. Digirolamo put together a signature performance in one of the biggest games of her career against one of the most dangerous forward lines in hockey. She's a huge reason why Boston was able to get this win.

  • 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: PWHL)