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MX News Update 2024

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Montreal and Boston are looking to add a new layer to the historic rivalry in the PWHL playoffs

Hockey star Marie-Philip Poulin is motivated by the opportunity to compete in the playoffs regardless of the opponent.

The fact that Montreal will face a team from Boston in the Professional Women’s Hockey League postseason only adds fuel to the fire.

“Anytime you get a chance to play any team in the playoffs, it’s exciting,” Poulin, Montreal’s captain, said Wednesday at the Verdun Auditorium. “It will be even more special to play against Boston.”

The spirited rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL’s Boston Bruins goes back decades. The PWHL will add another layer this week when Montreal hosts Boston on Thursday night in Game 1 of their best-of-five semifinal series at Place Bell in Laval, Que.

Montreal coach Kori Cheverie of New Glasgow, N.S., says Boston is a rival no matter where you come from.

“I don’t know how many teams really like Boston, in any sport, in men’s hockey and women’s hockey, I don’t think they’re liked,” Cheverie said.

Jillian Dempsey, born and raised in Massachusetts, finds herself on the other side of the equation.

Dempsey played for Harvard University, the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Boston Pride of the Premier Hockey Federation. The 33-year-old is also an avid Bruins fan who “grew up on the heated rivalry.”

“It’s a weird situation, but I’ve never played for that Boston team, so I have nothing there,” Dempsey said. “My whole life I’ve always put Boston above anyone else, but this is my team this year.

“You know it’s going to be a great series when teams from Boston and Montreal compete against each other.”

Boston captain Hilary Knight has seen it from both sides after playing for the Blades and Les Canadiennes de Montreal in the CWHL.

“It’s one of the better rivalries in professional sports,” Knight said.

Rivalry aside, it’s an exciting match. Montreal finished second in the regular season, six points ahead of third-place Boston, but the two teams are tied at 1-1-1-1 in head-to-head matches this season. Boston qualified for the play-offs last Saturday thanks to a dramatic 4-3 win over Montreal.

Poulin finished tied for second in the league with 23 points in 21 games to lead Montreal. Forward Laura Stacey and defenseman Erin Ambrose each added 18 points as part of a power play that found its groove late in the season, and Montreal comfortably maintained a playoff spot all year.

Boston, meanwhile, was on the outside looking in before winning four of its last five regular-season games to get into the playoffs in good shape.

“We have to continue our momentum,” Boston coach Courtney Kessel said Monday night. “We had a great finish and we got going after (the World Cup break), but this is play-off hockey and anything can happen.”

The key for Montreal is clear: be willing to get physical.

“Every time we play them, they finish every hit,” Dempsey said. “That’s something we know is coming and we can flip the script a little bit and be more physical.”

Game 2 takes place Saturday at Place Bell, followed by Game 3 and Game 4, if necessary, next Tuesday and Thursday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Massachusetts. Game 5 would be back in Laval on May 19.

The winner will face Toronto or Minnesota in a best-of-five final for the Walter Cup.

The matchup will feature a duel between two of the world’s best netminders. Ann-Renee Desbiens, who helped Canada to gold at the world championship last month, will face American starter Aerin Frankel for Montreal. Desbiens had an average season by her standards, finishing fifth with a .923 save percentage. However, Montreal expects its No. 1 goalie to produce results when the stakes are higher.