The Boston Pride gave their fans the sweetest Valentine's Day gift of them all: a win over the Whale for a return to first place.
In front of at least 1,900 fans, possibly the season high, the Pride downed the Whale 4-2, a damaging blow to their hopes of finishing at the top of the league. For the first time since November 22, Boston has fewer losses than Connecticut and lead them by one point in the standings. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The Pride have faced the Whale three times in the last four games, and it showed. They were purposeful in their play and more than ready for this matchup. The two teams will meet for the final time in the regular season next Sunday at Chelsea Piers in what will be the deciding game of the season.
It took nearly a full period of evenly-matched play to find a goal, but after Jordan Smelker put one past Connecticut’s Nicole Stock, the Pack never looked back. Boston’s defense held the Whale to just one shot on goal during the entire second period while the offense bombarded Stock’s net, racking up a total of 32 shots through 40 minutes. Assisted by Amanda Pelkey — who almost didn’t make it to the game because she was stuck in the airport — and Jillian Dempsey, Smelker snuck it through Stock’s pads for her first of the night.
To open the second period, the Whale’s Kelli Stack was in the penalty box for slashing late in the first period, and the Pride jumped at the opportunity. Brianna Decker tipped in Alyssa Gagliardi’s outside shot to give the Pride a 2-0 lead. With the goal, her tenth, she joined linemate Hillary Knight (14) and Buffalo’s Kelley Steadman (12) as the only players scoring in double digits in the league this season.
The Whale cut it to 2-1 five minutes into the third period as Brittany Dougherty scored her first goal of the season, unassisted, on her former UMaine teammate Brittany Ott. Dougherty saw Ott drifting from her net and the high shot sailed over her.
However, Smelker scored what would be the game-winning goal halfway through the third, a snipe that once again went through Stock’s legs. Shooting through the defensemen, Stock never saw the puck until it was already in the net.
With a minute and a half to play, Kate Buesser made it 3-2, but it wasn’t quite enough. The Whale pulled their goalie in favor of the extra skater, and Gigi Marvin scored an empty-netter to seal the victory.
The Pride locker room after the game was the happiest it’s been all season. Ott, who stopped 18 of 20 shots by the Whale, shared both some serious and not-so-serious thoughts on the Whale.
When asked about this popular tweet of hers, she spoke for all of us here on this site and across the greater Boston area as she replied, "I feel pretty strongly about #FinsDown."
"We can’t go in there over confident or cocky, they’ll capitalize on that," Ott said of next week’s trip to Connecticut. Going into that game, and into the playoffs the weeks ahead, the game plan for the Pride is simple: "We need to stick to our systems. Once we try to do too much out there it kinda unravels a bit. Everyone has to focus on their own roles."
Aside from beating the Whale, Ott was most excited about the huge support the Pride received from the home crowd on Sunday afternoon.
"It was incredible to see the wave go around there a few times, that was something I had to take in for a second," she said.
Not only was the Valentine’s Day matinee the final home game for the Pride, it was also Denna Day. All proceeds from the game benefitted the Denna Laing Fund and fans were asked to wear yellow in support of both Laing and the team. Many of the 1,900+ were wearing their Laing 24 shirseys or draped them over their seats. The crowd at the merchandise table to buy shirts before the game and during the intermissions was chaotic. Laing joined the team on the ice prior to warmups and for the huddle just before puck drop. As always, she was wearing her bright yellow scarf.
Dempsey touched on the added importance of winning Sunday’s game.
"Especially on Denna day, I think it was a little more in this game - it was for first place, in honor of Denna. It was a pretty pivotal point in the season for us," she said.
When asked to share any thoughts on Laing, Dempsey spoke candidly about her, visibly moved and truly sincere, referring to Laing as an incredible teammate and friend.
"She’s the toughest one on our team by far, she has such a positive attitude, is so determined and committed to getting better every day and making progress wherever she can and she’s doing that, she’s battling and inspiring everybody," she said.
Although this was a huge win for the Pride, they still have their own battles ahead in the final two weeks of the season, which they’ll spend away from home. The Pride can clinch first place next Sunday with another victory over the Whale, before closing out the regular season on the 28th in Buffalo.
The Pride will host the first round of the playoffs at Raymond Bourque Arena in Beverly, Mass., on Friday, March 4 at 7:10 p.m., Saturday the 5th at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday the 6th at 6:00 p.m., if necessary. They will face either the third or fourth place team. You can grab your tickets here so you can start making your travel arrangements. The arena only seats 1,000. Let's make sure it's packed.