BOSTON PRIDE WIN 20TH, EARN TOP SEED IN ISOBEL CUP PLAYOFFS
By Jane Norton and Samantha Mellies-U'Ren
It was as if the Boston Pride wanted to remind everyone once again that they have been the best team in the NWHL since the first weekend of the season.
Less than 20 hours after losing their first game of the season – a 4-3 thriller to the second-place Minnesota Whitecaps – the Pride clinched the top seed in the 2020 Isobel Cup Playoffs with a 4-2 victory on Sunday at TRIA Rink.
Lexi Bender’s power-play goal at 5:32 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie and was the game-winner for Boston. Christina Putigna sealed the victory with an empty-netter with 15 seconds left in the game.
“So much fun,” Bender said with a smile after the game. “Last night was a punch in the gut, breaking our streak and stuff. This weekend has been some of the most fun hockey I’ve played and – I think our whole team would agree – some of the best hockey that we’ve played all season.”
Added Boston goaltender Lovisa Selander, who earned the win by stopping 33 of 35 shots: “Everyone was ready to respond.”
Sunday’s game, like Minnesota’s win the night before, was a tight, back-and-forth affair.
McKenna Brand, one of the top candidates for league MVP this season, opened the scoring at 5:23 of the first period with the kind of elite-level play she brings each week. Utilizing her speed and skill, Brand drove down the right side, past a Whitecaps defender, and deked around Minnesota goalie Amanda Leveille to slide the puck into the net.
The teams exchanged goals in the second period. Minnesota’s Allie Thunstrom – another MVP candidate – tied the game midway through the period with her league-leading 18th goal of the season. But Boston regained the lead six minutes later on a wrist shot, top-shelf goal by Mary Parker, assisted by Tori Sullivan. Thunstrom scored again, this time shorthanded, at 4:48 of the third, before Bender responded just 34 seconds later with the game-winner.
“When Minnesota got that goal from Thunstrom to tie it, our whole mentality was just to respond,” said Bender. “We’re a fast team. We try to use our speed and take advantage of opportunities. That’s what we did to go back in front and close out the win.”
Several players from the Pride and Whitecaps will be in action during NWHL All-Star Weekend in Boston on Feb. 8 and 9. Tickets are nearly sold out for the All-Star Game on Sunday and are going quickly for the Skills Challenge on Saturday night, so get yours now at NWHL.zone/tickets.
As for the playoffs, we now know that Boston will host not only one of the semifinals but – if they win that game – the Isobel Cup Final.
“This was a great weekend of hockey by both teams,” said Boston head coach Paul Mara. “It was huge to get the win today after such an emotional game last night. Our players remained focused, and because of that, they secured home ice throughout the playoffs.”
Photo Credit: Collin Nawrocki