RECAP: Montréal’s Close Win at New York Sets a New League Record for Penalties

Special team woes can't stop Montréal's roll, as Wednesday's 4-3 win over PWHL New York shows.

RECAP: Montréal’s Close Win at New York Sets a New League Record for Penalties
Katie Tabin takes the puck from Kayla Vespa with help from Sarah Bujold, via PWHL

When one of the top teams in the league takes on the team in last place, one might be forgiven for not expecting a tight game. But neither team was willing to go down easy in Montréal’s gritty 4-3 win in Bridgeport on Wednesday evening. 

Coming into the night, PWHL New York had dropped three straight games since their shootout win over Montréal on February 21, and desperately needed to start picking up points toward the playoffs. Meanwhile, Montréal had outscored their opponents 9-4 since the last time they saw New York and had been trading the top spot in the league back and forth with PWHL Minnesota.

The visitors made a strong showing in the first period, going up by three in the first fifteen minutes on goals from three different lines. Jillian Dempsey, Sarah Bujold, and Gabrielle David earned the markers. David had been elevated from the fourth line to the first in the absence of Mélodie Daoust, who did not travel with the team.

Then came some challenges. Montréal had allowed only six power play goals before Wednesday. Against New York, who own the second-best power play in the PWHL, they took five penalties and allowed three power play goals, two coming from deflections in front of the net.

Eleven minors were assessed to the two teams in 60 minutes of play, besting the previous league record of nine penalties in a game. Three of the six games to hit the old record mark involved PWHL New York.

Veteran forward Dempsey, a staple on Montréal’s penalty kill, acknowledged the challenge coming into these kinds of games in her post-game interview. “We gotta be disciplined in situations, but we know going against a team like New York that we have to play gritty and play physical and sometimes the calls go one way and we just have to find a way to respond either way.”

Montréal’s power play, which has been showing distinct signs of improvement in the last few weeks, failed to capitalize on any of the six penalties taken by New York. Montréal’s response came as it often has this season: at even strength and from Marie-Philip Poulin. The captain scored her eighth of the season to decide the game.

“Tonight we didn’t feel like it was our best game,” head coach Kori Cheverie told The Ice Garden. “I think we did some good things five-on-five, that was important for us tonight, and gotta clean up a little bit on the special teams, but it was just enough to get the win. Probably could've went either way.”

As part of the bigger picture, this was an important win for Montréal. They have proven they can score against weaker teams. On Wednesday, they proved that they can ride out tough games against physical opponents and score enough at even strength to make up for the times when their special teams fail. Montréal has only lost one of their four games against New York this season, and that was in a shootout. It bodes well for their ability to beat the team in a five-game playoff series.

Next, they will need to prove they can outscore opponents who also have lots of offensive firepower.

As rumors of a trade between Montréal and PWHL Boston swirl, Bostonian Jillian Dempsey earning her first goal in the PWHL adds a point of intrigue. The PHF’s all-time leader in goals, assists, and points has registered four points in 13 games in Montréal while largely confined to the fourth line.

“It’s definitely a little more limited than in the past,” Dempsey told The Ice Garden when asked about how usage may have affected her scoring drought. “Trying to play my role out there as best I can and I’ve always tried to play defensively as well, so just whenever the opportunities come, just trying to go out there and make something happen.”

PWHL Montréal, now standing alone at the top of the league standings, will play second-place Toronto on Friday night.