PWHL Semifinals - Game 3: Montreal 2, Boston 3 (OT) (Boston Wins Series, 3-0)
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PWHL Semifinals - Game 3: Montreal 2, Boston 3 (OT) (Boston Wins Series, 3-0)

PWHL Semifinals - Game 3: Montreal 2, Boston 3 (OT) (Boston Wins Series, 3-0) by Zoë Hayden

Montreal came to the Tsongas Center in Lowell needing a win to keep their season alive, and played their best complete game of the postseason, but it wasn't enough to stop the ascendant PWHL Boston.

For the home team, they got two key players back into their lineup in Jamie Lee Rattray and Loren Gabel (though the latter only took limited shifts). Lexie Adzija also stayed in the lineup, with no supplementary discipline after her bizarre ejection from Saturday's game. For them, the mission was simple – sweep Montreal, something basically no one expected them to do.

What happened?

Montreal started the game committed to testing Frankel, and she made a few big saves early, including a pileup in the crease with Gabrielle David bearing down. David's line generated the energy, but it was Marie-Philip Poulin and new linemate Mikyla Grant-Mentis who would open the scoring. Poulin posted up beside the net and Grant-Mentis hit her with a quick pass; her release was lethal and it was 1-0 Montreal.

Mélodie Daoust and Poulin had a 2-on-1 in the dying seconds of the first period as well, but Poulin was stonewalled by Frankel.

Boston came out with more purpose to start the second, but ended up shorthanded. Both of Montreal's power play units got incredible chances on Frankel, but she was aggressive to each one, stopping most notably Poulin again and a big blast by Kati Tabin.

When Boston got their own turn on the advantage, after Hilary Knight drew a holding call on O'Neill, Montreal was out-shooting them 23 to 7 at the midpoint of the second period. They added three shots on their power play, and pressured after the penalty expired, but Montreal went back to the advantage and got the very first insurance goal of the series. Maureen Murphy parked in front of Frankel and redirected a one-timer by Ambrose through the five-hole, making it 2-0.

Early in the third period on a delayed penalty, Jamie Lee Rattray very nearly scored on a one-timer from the circle, but it went off of Jillian Dempsey's stick, off the post, and out.

The resulting power play didn't bear any fruit for Boston, but a few minutes later, Sophie Shirley did, taking a drop pass from Amanda Pelkey and driving the net, forcing the puck straight through Desbiens and into the goal. This cut Montreal's lead in half and put the score at 2-1.

Late in regulation, Alina Müller had a series of monster shifts carrying the puck throughout the offensive zone and working her edges, but then got ahead of herself and cross-checked Amanda Boulier, sending Montreal to a late power play. This could have been a potential dagger for Boston, sending them down 3-1 late with too much of a mountain to climb before the buzzer.

But ending the game in regulation? That's actually an option?

Not for this series and not for Amanda Pelkey, who took a pass from Hannah Brandt in the neutral zone and had a quick breakaway on Ann-Renée Desbiens. With Montreal defenders closing on her, she ripped a quick shot and beat Desbiens to make it 2-2. The shorthanded tally freed Müller from the penalty box and rallied the crowd of 2,781 in Tsongas Center. There were still nearly four minutes to go, but the reality was setting in that 60 minutes might not be enough for the third time in the series.

The teams each generated a few more shots before the buzzer, but we were headed back to overtime.

Our fears about another marathon night were allayed just 1:02 into overtime, when Müller got set up by Theresa Schafzahl to enter the zone, and cut down the middle with speed, throwing the puck on Desbiens. Tapani was driving to the side of the net for the rebound, and put it home to end Montreal's inaugural season. It was her second OT winner of the playoffs and came from much the same spot on the ice.

Boston now awaits the winner of the Toronto-Minnesota series, which Toronto leads 2-1. They will play for the Walter Cup.

Three up, three down

↑ Courtney Kessel vs. the bench – My favorite part of this broadcast was watching Boston head coach Courtney Kessel react to both the OT winner and Pelkey's game-tying shorthanded tally. Kessel is always so composed during a game, but you can also kind of tell that it's an effort for her. After both of these tallies, she celebrated so hard that she lost her balance standing on the bench. There really isn't any point to me mentioning this except that I enjoyed it. Kessel is the first coach whose team has punched a ticket to the PWHL championship final and that's gotta feel pretty great.

↓ Controversy – For once, there was no doubt about it, and no stunningly bad officiating decision. There were definitely missed calls, but there are always missed calls in hockey. There will be controversies about how Montreal lost this series, I'm sure, but Boston's sweep is a great playoff story – an underdog stunning a favored superstar lineup and engendering all kinds of debate about what went wrong and what went right. It's why we watch hockey.

↑ Mikyla Grant-Mentis – MGM proved to be a capable linemate for Marie-Philip Poulin and was going hard in the corners and along the walls all night. Grant-Mentis joined Montreal late in the season as a reserve player after being released by Ottawa, and signed a regular Standard Player Agreement back March 17. She's a pending free agent, and her playoff performance will have certainly put her on other general managers' radars. But one wonders how she might do in Montreal's top six full-time next year.

↓ What we think we know – I think most observers thought Boston would play this series close but that Montreal would come out on top. A lot of us didn't think Boston would sneak into the playoffs in the first place. But that's why you play the games. A Boston offense that struggled all season to put goals in the back of the net found a way to come out on top in three straight nail-biters. I have never been more wrong than what I said in my playoff preview of this series:

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.

No insurance goals? No problem. Boston isn't bothered. Not to say they wouldn't be welcome – but Boston didn't need them to take down Montreal this time.

↑ ↓ Four lines – In this game, Kori Cheverie definitely used her depth players a little more consistently, and there really wasn't a huge difference in ice time distribution between the two teams throughout their lineups. The real difference was Boston's third and fourth lines got involved in the scoring in each of these games, and Montreal didn't have the same success with their depth. Gabrielle David's third line was an excellent energy line for Montreal in Game 3, and Jillian Dempsey's stick saved a sure goal by Rattray. But ultimately, Boston figured out their team game at a pivotal moment in the playoffs, and what worked for Montreal during the regular season didn't translate to a playoff series.

VP's Player of the Game

Sophie Shirley – Shirley really came into her own over the course of this series and showcased the type of center-drive, force-of-will offense that she can bring to a team. Boston's bottom six quite literally won them this series and Shirley's goal and assist (on 8 shots in 3 games) loom large when you're thinking about just how tight this series was. Whomever Boston meets for the Final, they have their work cut out for them with Shirley contributing on the third line.

  • 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: Michael Riley/PWHL Boston)