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It was homecoming day for Jilian Dempsey has she returned to play in the city she had always represented for the first time since Montreal drafted her in the PWHL draft. The veteran had played her NCAA hockey with Harvard and then went on to play for the Boston team in the CWHL, the NWHL and the PHF for 10 years. This was not lost on head coach Kori Cheveri and she put Dempsey in the starting line-up, a gesture which must have really been appreciated by the veteran.
As has almost become tradition, Montreal had a slow start in which Boston saw most of the puck and the offensive zone presence. To the uneducated eye, it might even have looked worrying, but the Montreal faithful know this steam takes a bit of time to warm up and sure enough, Cheverie’s team drew the first penalty of the game. As is also to often the case, Montreal failed to capitalize on the opportunity, but they did generate a lot of momentum which led to Erin Ambrose scoring the first goal of the game after a fantastic passing play from the team’s first line which included a couple of give and goes thanks to Marie-Philip Poulin’s amazing passing accuracy. It was Ambrose’s second goal of the season; her first one also having come against Boston.
In net, Montreal’s back-up Elaine Chuli, was playing her third game of the year and if she was largely untested in the first frame, she’s the sole reason why Boston couldn’t equalize in the second frame, making an array of spectacular saves. Every single time Cheverie has called on her, the 29-year-old netminder rose to the occasion, in three games she has a .962 save percentage and a 1.31 goal against average leading the league in both categories. Chuli doesn’t mind being second fiddle to Ann-Renée Desbiens though, she’s fine with her current situation, she’s developing and in time, her turn will come but for now, she’s just glad she and Desbiens push each other to be better.
For a while, it looked like Chuli may sign her first shutout of the season and she may well have done if Sarah Bujold didn’t commit an awful turnover deep in her zone which allowed Hannah Brandt to feed Sophie Shirley with a perfect pass, right in the slot. The forward made no mistake tying the score for Boston. There’s no denying she’s having a great week, Shirley has also been named as a member of Team Canada for the next three games of the Rivalry Series following Kristin O’Neil’s withdrawal. It will be the first time the Boston forward will suit for Canada’s senior side. Bujold felt awful about the turnover and skated to her goaltender later in the game to apologize according to Chuli who wouldn’t hold a grudge for something like that, it’s hockey, mistakes happen, it’s all good said the netminder.
Montreal looked a bit shaken after giving up the game tying goal, but they shook it off and actually dominated the third frame 11 shots to eight without being able to get another shot behind Aerin Frankel. It has to be said Boston goaltender is no slouch either, she’s Team USA’s number one goalie and has got a .927 save percentage. After 60 minutes, the score remained 1-1 and for the second time in as many games, the two sides headed to overtime.
Halfway through the five-minute overtime period, Cheverie came out all guns blazing putting on Ambrose, Poulin and Stacey on the ice together and soon enough, the puck ended up in the back of Frankel’s net. In her post game availability, game-winning goal scorer Laura Stacey, mentioned that all the credit had to go to Ambrose there for her picture-perfect pass right on the doorstep which gave King Clancy’s great-great-grand-daughter an easy tap-in. Poulin got her second assist of the night on the play, giving her nine points in nine games this season, second only to Alex Carpenter in the league. The New York forward has got 11 points so far and scored the overtime winner to complete her team’s comeback win against Ottawa earlier this afternoon.
With two points from this overtime win, Montreal takes sole possession of first place in the standings. Furthermore, this is a third win in a row for Cheverie’s crew accomplishing a winning streak that has eluded their male counterpart all season in the NHL. If the head coach was pleased with her team’s performance, she showed signs of impatience when she was once again asked what the problem was with her team’s power play. Montreal has one goal in 26 power play opportunities so far and the pilot is understandably tired of talking about it, but she still said the passing play is great, it’s generating momentum and scoring chances, the goals will come.
Cheverie praised her team’s improved defensive play, noting the players got more sticks in the way of Boston’s players, not letting them take shots so easily. It also showed on the stat sheet since Montreal only allowed 27 shots on goal. In their last four games, they had allowed 32, 40, 46 and 44 shots. Their goaltenders have been kept busy to say the least, but thankfully, both Desbiens and Chuli enjoy busy outings, which is a big part of Montreal’s success especially with its young defense.
Montreal’s next game will now be in a sold-out Scotia Bank Arena on February 16th against Toronto. Until then, the league’s Canadian and American national team players will be facing off in the Rivalry Series.