Following the Pride's crushing 6-0 victory over the New York Riveters on Friday night, Brianna Decker said, "the hardest thing to do is end a team's season."
The Riveters made sure that rang true on Saturday night.
In stark contrast to the night before, the second game at Endicott College's Ray Bourque Arena was much more competitive and unpredictable than the 7-4 final score implies. Late in the third period, there were even some moments when the Riveters looked like they would tie the game to force overtime. Despite their bursts of effort and goal scoring, however, the Pride were just too good to be taken down.
As many predicted, Boston avoided playing a game three and punched their ticket as the first team to advance to the Isobel Cup Finals. New York may not have won a playoff game, but they certainly went down swinging. At one point, literally.
The Pride jumped out to an early lead on Gigi Marvin’s signature slapshot goal, assisted by Amanda Pelkey, beating Nana Fujimoto on her glove side.
To double the lead, Hilary Knight scored her first goal of an eventual hat trick during Boston’s first power play opportunity of the evening. In total, the Pride scored five power play goals on the weekend, a great improvement from their February 21st game at the Connecticut Whale when they failed to score during seven such opportunities.
Even more extraordinary was the fact that the Riveters scored four power play goals in one evening. The Riveters had the fewest power play goals in the league during the regular season (12), but as of late their power play unit has been improving. During their regular season finale at Chelsea Piers, both goals they scored against the Connecticut Whale were power play goals. They ended up losing that game 4-2, but they certainly gave the Whale a scare. New York did the same thing to the Pride on Saturday night.
With a scoreline of 3-1 in favor of the Pride at the end of the first period, the Riveters clawed their way back into it during the middle frame. The Pride added a fourth less than a minute into the period, a beautiful wrap around goal from Blake Bolden, who had a spectacular game in every respect.
When Knight added her second of the game, once again on the power play, it certainly looked as if this would end up being a repeat of Friday night’s blowout.
But, as Riveters captain Ashley Johnston said after the game, "to keep fighting until the end, that’s what Riveters hockey is."
All in 20 seconds, the Riveters took advantage of a 5-on-3 to make it 5-2, the Pride struck back with a shorthander, then the Riveters scored again. The second period saw a total of seven penalties. At one point, there were three Riveters and two Pride players in the penalty boxes all the same time. For lovers of defense and goaltending, this was not the greatest game, but for everyone else it was wildly entertaining and everything you’d hope for in a playoff game.
Late in the third period, the Riveters cut it as close as 6-4 with yet another power play goal, this time with the goalie pulled and the Pride’s Zoe Hickel in the box for body checking.
In the final minutes, the Riveters battered Brittany Ott’s net with shots, but Knight’s empty-netter sealed the victory and her hat trick.
After the game, Boston's head coach Bobby Jay spoke highly both of the Riveters and his own players.
"I don’t know if anyone can play as hard as New York played," he said. "They should be proud of the effort."
When asked which of his players stood out in particular, Jay praised his defenders. "Blake Bolden has really brought her game to another level the second half of the season," he said. "She’s been fantastic." He also named Kacey Bellamy, who had two assists on Saturday night, saying her performance has been "at the highest level" this season.
Forward Jillian Dempsey also mentioned Bellamy’s importance to the team’s success. "I never think she gets the credit that she deserves, but she is incredible for us. She makes the simple plays and is a leader," she explained. "Nothing flashy ever, but she does what we need her to do and she leads."
In a league where there have only been three shutouts total to this point, it’s easy to overlook defenders. A defender has never been named Player of the Week, so the league is, in part, contributing to this oversight. Bellamy and the rest of the Pride defense were what kept it 7-4, especially during the hectic closing minutes. Giving up four goals is not ideal, but two of those came with a two-man advantage, and, as Dempsey said, "you should be getting a goal on those."
New York’s Johnston, who was in tears while speaking to the media, said that her team’s ability to execute in those power play situations on Saturday was "a nice form of development" after the struggles her team had with it throughout the season.
"I’m glad we gave them everything we had until the end. It really defined what Riveters hockey is for the future," she said.
We’re glad the Riveters made it exciting, too.
Up next are the even more exciting and resilient Buffalo Beauts, who downed the Connecticut Whale 4-3 on Sunday evening in an upset that’s been in the making for months. The Pride will travel to Newark this weekend to close out the NWHL's inaugural season, as both teams will leave it all on the ice in their pursuit of the first-ever Isobel Cup.
If the match up had been Pride-Whale, I would have bet on the Pride with confidence. But up against Buffalo, you really never know what’s going to happen.