The Bright Hockey Center in Boston was so busy on Sunday afternoon that the ticket office ran out of paper tickets. Instead, they marked fans’ hands with X’s before heading inside.
The line for the merchandise table wrapped around a corner. By the first intermission, they had already sold out of multiple sizes of the official Denna Laing T-shirts and the #Cards4Denna box was nearly full.
In front of a crowd of over 1,100, the Boston Pride once again took down the Connecticut Whale, this time 4-1. Aside from that 2-1 victory over the Whale at Chelsea Piers on December 27, Sunday’s contest was easily the most exciting Pride game of the season thus far.
Despite giving up the first goal of the game, Boston was firing on all cylinders. The defense battled for every puck, the offense was able to break down the Whale’s efforts to guard Jaimie Leonoff’s net, and Brittany Ott should officially change her name to Brilliant Ott.
Tara Tomimoto fired a wristshot just over Ott’s glove about six minutes into the first period, giving the Whale the early lead and a burst of confidence, but that was the only one they’d sneak by Ott.
Towards the end of the first period, the momentum shifted in favor of the Pride. They had the tying goal waved off for high sticking before Jordan Smelker tied it, for real, while on the power play with two minutes left. Her stick-side shot curved over Leonoff’s shoulder and around the back of the net before hitting the other side.
In the second period, luck was not on the side of the Whale. They racked up three straight penalties, each one only overlapping by a few seconds and resulting in an exhausting six minutes of penalty killing. With 13 seconds of five-on-three hockey to play, Gigi Marvin unleashed one of her trademark slapshots and it flew into Leonoff’s net.
The crowd erupted in cheers as the foghorn sounded, Marvin getting mobbed by her teammates. I’ve been at every home game this season, and it was the loudest Bright Hockey Center has ever been for a Pride game.
The Whale never fully recovered from their penalty disaster as they only had four shots on goal in the second period, while the Pride racked up 18. Amanda Pelkey made it 3-1 as she scored an unassisted goal which looked like it may have deflected off a defender.
After the game, she admitted that scoring on that play wasn’t her intention.
"I saw Zoe [Hickel] backdoor and…I did like a shot-pass because I wanted it to get to her, so it was harder than a regular pass and in the midst of that it hit one of the defense’s sticks," she said, which explained her pleasantly surprised goal celebration. "I guess when you just throw it to net sometimes it can go in," she said with a smile.
Early in the third, the Pride made it 4-1 as the result of another defensive redirect, with the goal being credited to Hilary Knight. After the game, Whale forward Danielle Ward said she took the blame for both of the tip-ins. But the Whale didn’t go down without a fight, drawing two penalties that resulted in a few seconds of five-on-three, this time in their favor. Connecticut had 11 shots on goal in the period and kept the Pride on their toes.
Ott, however, was just too good. She made difficult saves look easy and impossible ones look like she’d been practicing them. This one, where she traps the puck against her helmet while falling down? Can’t. Stop. Watching.
This was exactly the kind of fast-paced, evenly-matched hockey you’d expect from the top two teams in the league, but even better. Even though it was a 4-1 game, it felt like a 2-1 game. Smelker was awarded first star, as she scored and assisted both Marvin and Knight for a total of three points. Ott was the second star, saving 24 of 25 shots and lowering her goals against average to 1.94, which is far and away the best in the league.
After last week’s meaningful and emotional win over the Riveters, this was the Pride’s way of telling the Whale, "you want the Isobel Cup? You’ll have to take it from us." Mathematically speaking, the Pride are now guaranteed to finish either first or second, as neither Buffalo nor New York can catch up to them with only five games remaining.
Following next weekend’s All-Star Game, the Pride will face the Whale in three of their last five games, four of which will be on the road. Boston’s final home game, on Valentine’s Day, will be against Connecticut. It will also be a special Denna Laing fund event, and #Cards4Denna will be collected at home games across the league throughout the rest of the season. Buy your sweetheart what they really want and deserve — Pride v. Whale tickets.