TIG Roundtable: PWHL Boston at PWHL Montréal

It's a tale of two rivals — dominant Montréal, and streaky Boston. Who will take the dub in the semis? Our staff weigh in on the matchup.

TIG Roundtable: PWHL Boston at PWHL Montréal
Credit: PWHL

It seems inevitable that these are the two teams that have built up the most enmity between each other heading into the postseason. While second-place Montréal has managed to handle other teams much more easily, third-seeded Boston has been a thorn in their side. Two of the four regular-season games went to overtime, with Boston winning one. And more recently, Kaleigh Fratkin's literal last-second goal clinched the postseason for the green and white, against — guess who! — this same Montréal squad.

With Boston getting hot after the international break, this matchup could be much closer than initially meets the eye. Let's see what our staff thinks of the matchup and hear their predictions for the outcome.

Who wins? How many games will it take?

Angelica Rodriguez: The Petty Patty in me wants to say Montréal will complete the sweep easily, but after looking at the history of these two teams … I think it’ll take all five games, honestly. Montréal will still win, but definitely not easily. There is something to be said for a hot streak, and especially with Boston's last-second win to close out the regular season against this same Montréal team … let's just say, anything can happen. 

J Gray: While Boston barely made the playoffs and Montréal has looked like a playoff team all season, Boston is the definition of a team peaking at the right time. They've taken 13 of 15 available points in their five games since the international break, and their goalies have allowed only eight goals in that stretch. Their win against Montréal on Saturday showed the physicality they can bring to a series. I'll agree with Angie and say Montréal in five, but I'm less certain of it than I would have been before Worlds.

Maya Smith: I’ll say four games. I agree with J and Angie that Boston is on a roll right now. But their last game against Montréal didn’t mean anything for Montréal. And this means everything. I think Montréal can shut it down when the time comes.

Lydia Murray: I would be surprised to see this series finish in fewer than five games. The regular season series between these two was ridiculously close, and I expect the same out of the playoffs. I lean slightly towards Montréal taking it in five because they are a more complete team and have shown more consistency throughout the season. However, Boston is peaking at the right time, and if they keep their post-Worlds break level of play up, it wouldn’t be the most shocking upset ever.

Mike Murphy: This is a tough one. I'm going to say this series goes five games and Montréal comes away with the win. I expect Montréal to look like and play like the better team throughout, but there is a lot of experience and pride on PWHL Boston. I can't see them folding in their first playoff series, but I don't think they have what it takes to best Montréal in a series right now.

Emma Sullivan: I think this is Montréal’s series to lose, but Boston is gonna send it the distance. The two teams definitely do not like each other, and while they’ve been pretty evenly matched, I just think Montréal is the slightest bit better. Especially with home ice advantage, I think Boston forces a game five but Montréal closes it out at home to head to the final. 

Name an X-Factor for each team.

Angelica Rodriguez: She's getting on the board at the right time: Mikyla Grant-Mentis for Montréal. She's a hell of a playmaker, and if you give her the ideal situations and ice time, she can make life miserable for Boston — especially when it comes to specialty teams.

Boston … I think it will depend on whether Loren Gabel is made available. Gabel has the skill set that can match up with a high-powered offense like Montréal's. But if she's still out, I would have to go with Jamie Lee Rattray. Although she's been quiet for a lot of the regular season, she's always a player who makes the most of her ice time, especially in clutch situations.

J Gray: For both teams, I believe the fan presence will be a significant advantage. Montréal will be playing at the 10,000-seat Place Bell, and they will be the only professional hockey team in the province to be playing playoff hockey. Quebeckers haven't seen  a championship title since Les Canadiennes in 2017. No doubt they will fill Place Bell with all the energy they've been storing up to support their teams. 

Meanwhile, Boston owns a four-game home win streak, and their final regular-season game against Montréal on Saturday was a barnburner of a clinching win, attended by a season-high 5,964 fans. With the Bruins through to the second round, and with the memories of the Boston Pride and Boston Blades titles, I wouldn't be surprised to see playoffs-rabid fans sell out the 6,500-seat Tsongas Center for one or two games.

Maya Smith: For Montréal, I’ll take the best goaltender in the world. Maybe this is goalie bias coming in, but Ann-Renée Desbiens has to be a huge factor in these games. Boston’s winning goal in their last game of the season came off a weird bounce. Aside from that, she’s been solid all season long in my opinion and will continue to be in the playoffs. And if not? Elaine Chuli is the backup and she won the Isobel Cup last season. It’ll be lights out.

For Boston, I’ll take Lexie Adzija. The playoffs have a certain intensity to them and she plays with that type of intensity every game. If you ask me, she is what Ottawa was missing to get to the playoffs, and she’ll be that game changing factor for Boston in this round. 

Lydia Murray: This may seem like low-hanging fruit, but for Boston, I’m going with Hilary Knight. She had a rough start to her PWHL career, but she picked it up a bit as the season stretched on, especially in big games. When she’s on, not only is she still one of the best goal scorers in the world, but it seems like the rest of Boston’s offense follows. So, Boston needs her to show up all series and be the player we all know she can be.

As for Montréal, I’ll go with Mélodie Daoust. She’s only eligible for one more 10-day reserve contract, but she has been outstanding on her previous two, with five points in six games. Daoust – Marie-Philip Poulin – Laura Stacey is a terrifying top line, so if and when Montréal gets her back in the lineup, it could be a game changer.

Mike Murphy: For Boston, Megan Keller. Keller has had some tough results in one-on-one situations with Poulin, and it will be up to her to play Poulin hard and physical in the playoffs. She's a big-time player for this Boston team, and the time has come for her to play like the star that she is.

For Montréal, Maureen Murphy. Murphy really came a long way as a rookie this season and represents the scoring depth that sets Montréal apart from other teams in the league. She had five points in the final six games of the season and, to put it simply, she makes plays. Murphy is one of those players who always finds a way to stand out because of what she creates with her speed and vision.

Emma Sullivan: Boston — Alina Müller. If there’s one thing I know about Müller, it's that she is a playoff performer. After watching her in the postseason at Northeastern, I'd say if she’s able to be the difference maker the way she was there, it’ll be hard to keep her from producing in this series. She’s Boston’s leading scorer for a reason, and I can see her continuing that into the playoffs as well. 

Montréal — I’ll say Desbiens too. She’s been so critical to Montréal’s success this season, and after Worlds she’s been even better. The last game against Boston was a bit shaky, but I think she’s able to put that behind her and move forward to continue dominating in net for Montréal.

Who will be the series MVP?

Angelica Rodriguez: Clutch time? Poulin time. Come on, now. 

J Gray: I'll say Susanna Tapani. She's led Boston with five points in five games since the international break, where she was a top scorer for Finland. She and Alina Müller have been deadly together. If Boston's win streak continues, it'll be because of that connection. If the series goes the other way, it'll be thanks to Ann-Renée Desbiens, always an MVP threat in a tournament format.

Maya Smith: I have to agree with what everyone else said. It’s gotta be Poulin.

Lydia Murray: I can’t decide on which team the MVP will come from, so I’m copping out and picking one from each team should they win. If Boston wins, I’ll go with Aerin Frankel. She has been unbelievable this season, ranking third in the PWHL in both goals against average and save percentage despite Boston just squeaking into the playoffs. When she’s on, she can steal at least a game. Meanwhile, if Montréal wins, it’s gotta be Poulin, and knowing her, she’ll get the series clincher. Captain Clutch is in a league of her own, and you can bet she’ll be on her A game in this series. 

Mike Murphy: This ain't even fair to ask. It's Poulin.

Emma Sullivan: I’m not going to be the one to bet against Poulin when there’s a championship up for grabs. So MPP for me as well. 

What would make the higher-seeded team lose?

Angelica Rodriguez: If they let Boston get under their skin like they did throughout the regular season, they'll be letting Boston into the series. Even with Boston's special teams struggling, they'll be all too happy to leverage their recent success into getting a lucky power play or jailbreak goal — especially if Montréal gets frustrated and tires themselves out on the penalty kill, or lets Boston get into Desbiens's kitchen.

J Gray: Montréal will be in trouble if their power play struggles return. Boston's goaltending has been strong down the stretch, and two of Montréal's goals against them on Saturday came from Grant-Mentis on the power play. If Montréal's early-season drought on the advantage returns, they may not be able to break through a rejuvenated Boston.

Maya Smith: Montréal has struggled to get it done in big games this year. If they lose some confidence (especially a home loss in the first game), they could start to struggle. If everything (including goaltending) works for Boston, I could see them using their momentum coming into the playoffs to get the upset.

Lydia Murray: Going off what Maya said, Montréal has struggled a bit in big games this year. Meanwhile, Boston has played five straight big games and emerged with 13 out of 15 points. They also won a few other huge games earlier in the year. They may not have been consistent for most of the year, but they’ve always shown up when it mattered, and now they’re showing some consistency too. If they can keep that momentum up, they could pull off the upset.

Mike Murphy: If Boston’s more bruising style of play wears on Montréal and the refs let them play, they can black-and-blue their way through this series and wrestle out a win. Of course, they are going to have to catch Montréal first.

Emma Sullivan: I think Boston has the momentum from the last game of the season on their side, especially with the playoff clinching in that game. Using that against Montréal will be critical, and I think the way they’ve been playing throughout the end of the season is gonna make a huge difference in the postseason. Montréal has also been playing well, with three wins in their last five. But Boston just has a little more edge, and that might be the difference here.