May 20th, 2024

Montreal, Boston look to add another layer to historic rivalry in PWHL playoffs


By Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press on May 8, 2024.

Montreal's Marie-Philip Poulin (29) reacts after scoring against Boston during first period PWHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, March 2, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL – Hockey star Marie-Philip Poulin is motivated by the opportunity to compete in the playoffs, no matter the opponent.

The fact Montreal will face off against a team from Boston in the Professional Women’s Hockey League post-season only adds fuel to the fire.

“Every time you have a chance to play in the playoffs against any team, it’s exciting,” Poulin, Montreal’s captain, said Wednesday at the Verdun Auditorium. “It’s going to be even more special to play against Boston.”

The spirited rivalry between the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins goes back decades. The PWHL will add another layer to it this week when Montreal hosts Boston in Game 1 of their best-of-five semifinal series Thursday night at Place Bell in Laval, Que.

Montreal coach Kori Cheverie, of New Glasgow, N.S., says Boston is a rival no matter where you’re from.

“I don’t know how many teams actually like Boston in any sport, in men’s hockey, women’s hockey, I don’t think they’re well-liked,” Cheverie said.

Born and bred in Massachusetts, Montreal forward Jillian Dempsey finds herself on the other end of the matchup.

Dempsey played for Harvard University, the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Boston Pride of the Premier Hockey Federation. The 33-year-old is also a rabid Bruins fan who “grew up with the heated rivalry.”

“It’s a weird situation, but I’ve never played for that Boston team, so I have nothing there,” Dempsey said. “I’ve always been Boston over anybody my whole life, but this is my team this year.

“You know it’s going to be a great series when teams from Boston and Montreal are battling.”

Boston captain Hilary Knight has seen it from both sides after playing for the Blades and Les Canadiennes de Montréal in the CWHL.

“It’s one of the better rivalries in pro sports,” Knight said.

Rivalry aside, it’s a tight matchup. Montreal finished second in the regular season, six points ahead of third-place Boston, but the two sides went an even 1-1-1-1 in head-to-head matchups this season. Boston clinched a playoff berth with a dramatic 4-3 win over Montreal last Saturday.

Poulin finished tied for second in league scoring with 23 points in 21 games to lead Montreal. Forward Laura Stacey and defender Erin Ambrose added 18 points each as part of a power play that found its groove late in the season, and Montreal comfortably held a playoff spot throughout the year.

Boston, meanwhile, was on the outside looking in before winning four of their last five games in regulation to enter the playoffs on a roll.

“We need to continue our momentum,” Boston coach Courtney Kessel said Monday night. “We had a great ending and we came on hot after (the world championship break), but this is playoff hockey and anything can happen.”

The key for Montreal is clear: be ready to get physical.

“Whenever we play them, they’re finishing off every single hit,” Dempsey said. “That’s something that we know is coming and that we can kind of flip the script on them and be more physical.”

Game 2 goes Saturday at Place Bell, followed by Game 3 and Game 4, if necessary, next Tuesday and Thursday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass. Game 5 would be back in Laval on May 19.

The winner will face either Toronto or Minnesota in a best-of-five final for the Walter Cup.

GOALIE DUEL

Within the matchup is a duel between two of the world’s best netminders. Ann-Renée Desbiens, who backstopped Canada to gold at last month’s world championship, takes the crease for Montreal against American starter Aerin Frankel.

Desbiens had an average season by her standards, finishing fifth with a .923 save percentage. Montreal, however, is expecting its No. 1 goalie to deliver with the stakes higher.

“She certainly is someone that you want to have in the net at this time of the year,” Cheverie said. “You can’t bet against her. She’s a gamer.”

KNIGHT TIME?

Knight holds the scoring record at the world championships with 111 points, but the prolific numbers haven’t exactly translated to the PWHL. The 34-year-old sniper had six goals and five assists in 24 games this season and will have to be better for a Boston team that produced a league-low 50 goals this season.

Poulin still expects her longtime rival to be a handful.

“Over the years I’ve had the chance to sit in the front seat to see how much she can be a game changer in those big games,” she said. “You see it in her eyes, you can see how much of a competitor she is.”

NOTES: Montreal forward Sarah Bujold remained day-to-day with an injury as of Wednesday afternoon “¦ Reserve player Mélodie Daoust can sign one more 10-day contract during the playoffs. Montreal did not reveal whether the 2018 Olympics MVP would be in the lineup for Game 1. “¦ Boston forwards Loren Gabel and Taylor Girard are considered day-to-day.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2024.

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