Boston Pride’s Late Surge Falls Short, as Connecticut Whale Win Sixth in a Row

A lackluster start sank the Pride in the NWHL's first-ever Battle of New England.

Photo by Kyle Clauss

Photo by Kyle Clauss

There’s just no beating the Connecticut Whale.

Even if you stymie their scorers, pierce their layers of shot-absorbing defense, and spot a path to the net, you’ll still run into Quebecois goaltender Jaimie Leonoff, who was positively dominant in the Whale’s 4-3 victory over the Boston Pride.

Sunday’s matinee at Harvard’s Bright-Landry Center was the first-ever meeting between the Pride and the Whale, who remain undefeated through six games. “I have such a great team in front of me,” said Leonoff, who turned away 39 of 42 shots. “They blocked—how many shots did they block today?—I think they probably took about 80 shots today, and 40 of them must’ve been blocked and I saw the other 40. They pick up after me well.”

The Pride appeared flat through the first period, despite outshooting the Whale 12-7. Miscommunication in the Pride’s zone allowed Shiann Darkangelo to slip through the defense and wrist a shot past Brittany Ott just 37 seconds in. Not long after, Boston University alum Shannon Doyle put Connecticut up 2-0 with a slapshot through traffic, good for her first goal of the season.

“It wasn’t a pretty goal like Shi’s first goal, that she came in and went bar-down. But sometimes, you just put the puck on net, and I was just hoping to get it there and hopefully one of the forwards could get a rebound off of it,” Doyle said, grinning. “But it worked out that it went in and got my first goal, so it was great.”

For the Pride, it was an all-too-familiar start. As was the case in last week’s home-opener loss to their emerging rival New York Riveters, Boston put themselves behind early and never recovered, despite superlative efforts in the second and third periods.

“All of our deficits in the first period have just been straight-up breakaways, one-on-0 shots for our goalie,” co-captain Hilary Knight said. “So it’s unfortunate bounces for us, but once we hone in on that, we have a whole season left that we can tighten up and get the pucks in first.”

Darkangelo scored her second unassisted goal of the night midway through the second period, going top-shelf over Slebodnick’s glove. A subsequent power play goal from Molly Engstrom earned Ott the hook, with Lauren Slebodnik entering in relief.

Pride forward and Northeastern University alum Rachel Llanes received a penalty shot after Kaleigh Fratkin tossed her stick at her as she bolted down ice on a shorthanded breakaway. The puck slipped off Llanes’ stick, and Leonoff stood tall.

“Usually I’m pretty comfortable with penalty shots, because in the [CWHL], we had a bunch of games where we ended up going to shootouts. Obviously the jitters are there, but you need to capitalize on those chances,” Llanes said.

As the second period waned to a close, the former Husky snuck past the Whale defense, collected the puck, and beat Leonoff with just .4 seconds remaining to trim Connecticut’s lead to 4-1—and earn a little redemption in the process.

“It was good, just because I knew going in that I probably couldn’t beat her with a shot, so might as well take it in, make a move on her, and score,” Llanes said. “I was going to see it into the net if I had to. I was going to get there.”

After Pride co-captain Brianna Decker drew a elbowing minor on Quinnipiac University all-time leading scorer Kelly Babstock early in the third period, Amanda Pelkey received a pass from Decker and wristed a shot past Leonoff to bring Boston within two goals. Defenseman Kacey Bellamy added another, launching a slapshot from the point to cut the deficit to one.

But even with Slebodnick pulled, the Pride failed to cash in on the momentum and find an equalizer. “I think we needed to get the next one, and we did,” Pelkey said. “After that, I think we had all the momentum, the only thing we didn’t do was put the puck in again. But I think we had a lot of energy coming off that play.”

For Boston, it was their third-straight loss and second at home, as they slide to 3-3-0. For Connecticut, it was their sixth-straight win, but second near-collapse. Last week, the Buffalo Beauts nearly snapped the Whale’s winning streak in a wild 7-6 tilt that ended in a shootout.

“We had been talking about it for a while,” Leonoff said when asked how it felt to steal a road win on Boston’s ice. “We never had any doubts that this was going to be our game. At the end of the day, we outworked them. We blocked more shots than them. We skated when it mattered. It doesn’t matter who they have in their room, because we have people who are just as good in ours.”