Can anyone stop this Boston Pride team?
On Sunday afternoon, the New York Riveters nearly did just that.
For the first time since their Isobel Cup Championship victory, the Pride returned to the ice of the Barnabas Hockey House in Newark, NJ. Sunday’s game was as exciting as any playoff game. Even though the Riveters are the NWHL’s third place team, they did not play like it.
With the support of a very vocal home crowd behind them, the Riveters did not allow the Pride’s early 2-0 lead to crush their spirit.
Boston scored twice in the first four minutes of the game, Meghan Duggan scooping up a rebound and Alex Carpenter sniping a shorthanded for her fifth goal of the season. Late in the period, the Riveters got one back as Bray Ketchum scored on a deflection from a face-off in front of Brittany Ott’s net.
In the middle frame, New York completed a feat few have achieved this season: they held the Pride scoreless. The Pride have scored 17 second-period goals this season, but the Riveters’ defense blocked eight shots while keeping the Pride out of the center of the ice. This strategy was frequently used by the Pride’s opposition last season, and it continues to cause problems for them. Additionally, the Pride racked up four penalties in the second period. Even though the Riveters couldn’t capitalize on these opportunities, it prevented Boston from building any momentum and created animosity between the two teams.
Riveters captain Ashley Johnston tied the game at 2 goals apiece with less than three minutes to play in the period. Catching Ott off guard, Johnston went for a low shot when the goalie was expecting her to go high.
In the third, both teams piled on the shots, but both Ott and New York’s Sojung Shin were impenetrable. The five minutes of 4-on-4 overtime ticked away quickly, leaving a thrilling hockey game to be decided by the shootout.
The last time the Pride went to a shootout was in their home opener in October against the Buffalo Beauts. In that game, it was Amanda Pelkey who had the winning shot. This time, Pelkey shot third and was denied by Shin. At the other end of the ice, Ott denied New York’s fourth shooter, Kaleigh Fratkin, and left the game up to Zoe Hickel. She shot low and the puck snuck between Shin’s legs to give Boston the win.
The Pride preserved their eight-game win streak, but just barely.
Compared to Sunday’s game, win #7 was relatively easy. Saturday night at Warrior Ice Arena, the Pride put on a strong offensive showing in front of their home crowd, defeating the Whale 5-2. Brianna Decker scored a hat trick, the first home hat trick in NWHL history.
The Whale drew first blood and held the Pride scoreless in the first period, which hasn’t been accomplished by the opposing team since the Riveters did it on October 22nd. Despite this, the Pride’s firepower was too strong and the Whale’s defense was not strong enough to hold the tie.
After the weekend’s back-to-back games, the Pride will not skate again until 2017 and won’t play at home until February 4th. During the entire 2016 calendar year, the Pride lost only one game, a 4-3 defeat to the Beauts on January 3rd. In total, the Pride went 19-1 in 2016.
Obviously, this is a very talented team, even without Hilary Knight, who has played in only one game this season. However, the rest of the league is shifting and improving below them in the standings. In stark contrast to last season, the Beauts are in second place while the Whale are in last.
So, even though the Pride have played well, the rest of the league seems to be getting better. Don’t get me wrong, being undefeated is great, but close games like Sunday’s are more exciting for the viewer and show a higher level of competition, which is better for the league.
Will the Pride remain perfect for the entire season? Not if the Riveters and the Beauts have anything to say about it.