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Nurse scores twice, Toronto beats Montreal 3-2 in OT before record crowd in PWHL

MONTREAL — Marie-Philip Poulin remembers walking into the Bell Centre for her first Montreal Canadiens game at age 16 and witnessing a sellout crowd of rabid hockey fans.

Poulin couldn't have imagined then that scene would happen in women's professional hockey.

"I probably never thought it would be possible to be playing in this rink, being full capacity, cheering for Montreal, a women's team,” said Montreal's captain of its Professional Women's Hockey League team.

"Never I would've thought in my wildest dreams."

It happened Saturday afternoon when 21,105 fans filled the home of the NHL's Canadiens and set a women's hockey attendance record.

The sellout crowd surpassed the previous high of 19,285 at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena on Feb. 16.

Sarah Nurse scored twice, including the overtime winner, for visiting Toronto in a 3-2 win over Montreal. Toronto also clinched the league's first playoff spot.

Despite post-season implications with the PWHL regular season in its home stretch, the result felt secondary.

A previous attendance record of 18,013 set at the 2013 women's world championship in Ottawa had stood for a decade.

Poulin says the momentum hasn't died down since the PWHL opened its inaugural season Jan. 1.

“We talked about the PWHL, creating a league for many years," said the 33-year-old from Beauceville, Que. “We're here and we've been filling buildings all throughout the year. We thought it was going to be one week long of people's excitement and it's been what? We're April 20th and people are showing up.

"It's a movement. It's bigger than ourselves. The next step is that it becomes the norm."

Fans of all ages — some hoisting signs that read “Girls Hockey Rules” and “2033 PWHL Draft Eligible” — waved white towels, wore flashing bracelets and roared from the top of their lungs throughout the afternoon.

Poulin, also captain of the Canadian team that beat the United States 6-5 in overtime to win a world title last Sunday in Utica, N.Y., received a deafening standing ovation followed by chants of “Pou! Pou! Pou!” when introduced in the starting lineup.

That reception stirred even her Toronto opponents.

"I was getting teary eyes for her, on the bench," said Toronto defender Lauriane Rougeau of Beaconsfield, Que.

"I was like 'you go girl. This is your moment, take it.' Then after that, puck drop, rivalry, we're back focused and being rivals on the ice."

Blayre Turnbull also scored for the league-leading visitors (10-4-0-7), who beat Montreal for the fifth time this season. Emma Maltais had two assists and Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell made 37 saves.

Erin Ambrose and Sarah Bujold replied for Montreal (8-3-5-5).

Ann-Renée Desbiens, who backstopped Canada to gold in the world championship final, also received a raucous ovation. Desbiens made 30 saves in the loss.

Nurse took a pass from Renata Fast and fired the puck over Desbiens’ shoulder 13 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime period.

"Yes, it was an incredible moment, but if we look at that game, you never want to lose," Poulin said.

Montreal couldn't produce a winning goal from a power play with 2:55 remaining in the third period, when Jocelyne Larocque tripped Poulin.

Rougeau said the Bell Centre fuelled her passion for hockey, so it felt great to win in the building.

"It just brings a lot of memories and I just created a new one here,” she said. “It's great to come out with a win and I will forever cherish this moment."

Montreal's power play was 1-for-6 against Toronto’s league-best penalty kill in a chippy game between the rival cities. Toronto was 0-for-4.

Turnbull opened the scoring 9:43 into the first period when her shot trickled through Desbiens.

Bujold put Montreal on the scoreboard with 19 seconds left in the period after pulling a smooth toe-drag around a defender before beating a red-hot Campbell blocker side as the crowd erupted.

Nurse deflected Allie Munroe’s point shot past a screened Desbiens 40 seconds into the second period before Ambrose tied the game with another late goal, scoring with 25 seconds left in the period.

Despite the loss for their team, Montreal's fans gave Nurse a standing ovation when she was announced as the game's first star.

"The crowds here in Montreal can definitely be tough on Toronto teams, so the support everywhere has been incredible,” Nurse said.

"I never dreamt of playing at the Bell Centre but that was one of the best experiences that I've ever had."

UP NEXT

Montreal: Hosts New York on Wednesday.

Toronto: Visits New York on April 28.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press