Game Recap: PWHL Montreal vs. PWHL Minnesota | 3/24/2024

Isaac Swartz | Inside The Rink

Two of the top four teams in the PWHL clashed on Sunday afternoon as PWHL Montreal visited Minnesota at the Xcel Energy Center, and PWHL Minnesota continued its recent strong play, winning a highly-charged contest 3-2 in the shootout. Minnesota will remain in second place in the league and Montreal stays in third going into the “international break” for the Women’s World Championships.

The game was dominated by swings in momentum and both goaltenders held steady during long stretches in their defensive zone. Montreal’s Elaine Chuli, leading the league in netminding stats, was particularly busy, stopping 33 of 35 shots. Nicole Hensley faced fewer shots (23), but needed to come up with several key saves in the third as the game headed toward overtime.

Montreal started the game with several determined shifts, putting Minnesota on its heels and scoring quickly as defender Kati Tabin got her first in the league at 2:36. Maureen Murphy’s point shot was touched in front by Gabrielle David, and Tabin pounced on the rebound.

Montreal was 8-2 when scoring first, and Minnesota was 1-7 when giving up the first goal. 

On their next shift, Murphy and David connected again after Sophia Kunin stumbled on her side of center and turned the puck over. Murphy took a pass from David and scored her fourth goal of the season, out-waiting Hensley with a nice forehand-backhand move to put the visitors up 2-0.

Midway through the first, Minnesota seemed to draw energy from a power play even though they didn’t score. Sophie Jaques (who was traded earlier in the season from Boston) and Taylor Heise both had good chances with slap shots that were handled by Chuli. Minnesota continued to pressure, putting together a series of dominant shifts in the offensive zone after the advantage ended. They outshot Montreal 14-5 in the period.

Montreal has had difficulty finding offense without their captain, Marie-Philip Poulin, who missed her third straight game. Going into this matchup, they were on a three-game losing streak, although they led the season series against Minnesota, winning two of three games. Minnesota, on the other hand, was on a four-game win streak, scoring 15 goals and posting two shutouts during the run.

In the second, the run of play continued to belong to Minnesota, and they got the best scoring chance during an early Montreal power play as the penalty killers broke in on a three-on-one, with Chuli making a desperation save on Grace Zumwinkle. PWHL Montreal’s style of play – bending without breaking, giving up a lot of zone time, relying on goaltending and fast-break chances from players like Laura Stacey and Murphy, looks different without Poulin in the lineup. They are also without forward Tereza Vanišová, traded to Ottawa for help on the blue line from newcomer Amanda Boulier.

Finally, at 5:40, Minnesota’s Natalie Buchbinder fired a shot from the point that hit a Montreal player and banked in for her second of the year. On the very next shift, another quick strike from the team in purple tied it at 2-2, with defender Lee Stecklein allowed to walk in from the point and fire a shot from the left circle that beat Chuli. The goal was Stecklein’s second of the season and illustrated clearly Minnesota’s game plan of shooting from a distance.

The shots remained heavily in Minnesota’s favor, 18-8, at that point. At 9:21, still pressing, the line of Heise-Kendall Coyne-Michela Cava spent a shift with possession of the puck, then sent it back to the point for a high shot from Stecklein that was tipped in by Cava. However, the play required review for a high stick, and the goal was deemed to be above the crossbar and waved off.

After the game, Minnesota forward Taylor Heise said, “We’re a resilient team, we’ve been in those situations before, losing early in the game just like today. We didn’t really need to say anything, we sit in the huddle and know we have nearly the whole game left and time to work with what we’ve got.” 

Both teams were 2-2 when tied after two periods. They continued trading chances in the third. Montreal’s David broke in alone, but was poke checked by Hensley. Chuli sprawled to stop Grace Zumwinkke on a wide open chance just after that.

Montreal took advantage of a Brittyn Fleming miscue and broke in three on none–Stacey, Murphy, Kristin O’Neill–with Jaques and Fleming scrambling to get back but again, Hensley remained solid, saving the shot by Maureen Murphy with under two minutes to play.

After 60 minutes, the shots were 33-20 for Minnesota, who also led 16-7 in scoring chances.

In the three-on-three overtime, Montreal retained possession for the first two minutes before Minnesota’s Jaques poked the puck and dished it to Taylor Heise, who skated in alone and placed a hard wrist shot over the glove of Chuli but caught the corner of the crossbar and the post. Chuli scrambled to grab the puck as it fell just on the goal line and kept it out. Both goalies looked behind them at different points in the extra frame, but nothing went in for either side.

Both teams missed their first two attempts in the five-round shootout, until Zumwinkle scored on a skilled backhand-forehand move. Montreal’s Erin Ambrose patiently waited and shot over the glove of Hensley to tie it. Next, Heise pulled it into her feet then beat Chuli. Ambrose had a second attempt, but was stopped (shooters are allowed multiple attempts in the PWHL). 

Finally, Zumwinkle skated in and shot hard through the five-hole to win it for Minnesota. Minnesota remains in second place with 35 points, one behind first-place Toronto, and Montreal is solidly in third with 31 points. All teams will resume play starting April 18th after the international break. Zumwinkle noted, “There are five regular-season games left. So it’s going to be gas pedal down all the way when we get back.”

Cee Benwell

Longtime hockey player and fan, host of PWHL Puck Drop Podcast and GameDay Hockey on YouTube, X, hockey writer and proud supporter of women's hockey.

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