PHOTO CRED: Matthew Raney
NORTHFORD, CT - Going into Friday night, the Boston Pride and Connecticut Whale didn’t have to search very hard for motivation. Each team was streaking, and while the Pride looked to keep their 13-game undefeated streak alive, the Whale were looking to end their 7-game losing skid.
It didn’t take long for the scoring to get underway in the first period. Just over five minutes into the game, Kelly Babstock found Nicole Kosta between the hash marks for a shot that would find its way through Pride goaltender Brittany Ott. Whale defender Shannon Doyle would pick up the secondary assist on the goal.
The Pride would respond in kind 56 seconds later. It was the always-dangerous line of Hilary Knight, Jordan Smelker and Brianna Decker. Decker collected her 10th goal of the season, while Knight and Smelker would tack on the assists.
Mid-way through the first, Kelli Stack put one right up under the cross-bar to put the Whale up by a goal once again, with assists coming from Haley Skarupa and Micaela Long on the play.
Kelly Babstock would continue the Whale’s early run, putting her team up 3-1 after a rocket of a shot from her off-wing.
At that point, fans were witness to something that hasn’t happened since last season: Boston Pride Head Coach Bobby Jay pulled the reigning NWHL Goaltender of the Year Brittany Ott and put Lauren Slebodnick between the pipes.
The first period would end with the Wale up 3-1.
The beginning of the second period would showcase the Pride’s frustration level, as the Boston team would take three penalties over the first seven minutes of the period.
The Whale would capitalize on the second of the three power play opportunities. Jordan Smelker’s slashing penalty would lead to a Zoe Hickel goal, her third in two games as a member of the Whale, and first against her former team.
On the very next Whale power play, Connecticut goaltender Shenae Lundberg would face a daunting 2-on-0. All-Stars Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker found themselves all alone on Lundberg, but the sprawling Whale netminder would make the save and preserve Connecticut’s 4-1 lead for the time being.
The rest of the game’s scoring would happen over a wild span of 3:57 in the second period.
Jordan Smelker would start off the incredible Pride run as she redeemed herself for her penalty. With the Pride’s second power play opportunity of the period, she deflected a shot from Lexi Bender past Lundberg to make it 4-2.
Only 12 seconds later, Meghan Duggan would take a tripping penalty that somehow would help the Pride. First, it was Hilary Knight who pick-pocketed former teammate Zoe Hickel to Lundberg’s right to bury a goal unassisted and shorthanded.
Less than a minute later, on the very same Whale power play, Knight would assist Gigi Marvin’s shorthanded goal to tie the game at four.
The three special team goals over a span of 1:36 would set two NWHL records: Fastest three consecutive special team goals by one team, and the first time two shorthanded goals were scored on the same penalty kill.
Emily Field capped off the Pride’s run to give them their first and only necessary lead of the game by scoring the Pride’s fourth unanswered goal on a pass from Brianna Decker after a Whale turnover in the offensive zone, making the final score 5-4.
With a goal and three assists on the night, Brianna Decker moves into second place in the NWHL points-race (21) behind rookie teammate Alex Carpenter (23), who was held off the scoresheet for the game.
Lauren Slebodnick now leads all NWHL goaltenders in GAA (1.26) and save percentage (.938) in five games played, while Brittany Ott holds second place in those categories and still leads the NWHL in shutouts (3).
The Whale travel to Buffalo on Sunday to face the Beauts for the final game of the weekend, and the Pride head back to Boston to prepare to host the Beauts and New York Riveters on March 4th and 5th. Tickets to those games and every game can be found at nwhl.zone/tickets.