The top two teams in the PWHL faced off Wednesday night, as Montreal beat Minnesota 2-1 to claim first place in the league and hand Minnesota its first regulation loss. Michela Cava and Tereza Vanišová each scored their first PWHL goals, while Brigitte Laganière, Sophia Kunin, and Catherine Daoust each registered their first assists.
It took just 4:12 for Montreal to get on the board, despite Minnesota dominating puck possession early on. A miscue between Minnesota players turned the puck over to Montreal in their offensive zone, and Tereza Vanišová in the corner fired off a pass to Laura Stacey above the face-off circle to the right of Nicole Hensley. Stacey's shot fluttered, but beat Hensley – and was the team's first shot on goal of the night.
After a relatively even first period, Minnesota took charge of the game in the second. They had two power play opportunities but couldn't capitalize on either, but did find the tying goal from Michela Cava just past the midway point of the game. They also held Montreal without a shot on goal for roughly 7:30 to start the period, before eventually scoring on their own 22nd shot of the game. Liz Schepers forced her way through a pair of Montreal players and got a shot off close to the net; Elaine Chuli made the initial save, but Cava slapped in the puck when it rebounded and popped up into the air, tying the game at one.
The second period also saw multiple big physical incidents, including a collision between Taylor Heise and Jillian Dempsey. Heise appeared slower to get back to her feet, but remained in the game. She then took a big hit from Marie-Philip Poulin later in the period, and the duo ran into each other again after that, too.
The teams exchanged penalties early in the third period, but those were all killed off without incident. Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle both had several good chances, but couldn't get it past Chuli and the game remained tied. Minnesota also squandered a couple more power-play chances, and their advantage went 0-for-5 on the night.
Vanišová played the hero when she scored her first PWHL goal with 6:06 left in regulation. A long pass came all the way down the ice, then bounced off the boards awkwardly. Hensley came out to try to play it but missed, and although she tried to get back into position, she didn't quite make it and Vanišová put it in the open net.
Three up, three down
↑ Chuli strong in net – Montreal goaltender Elaine Chuli played in her second game of the season on Wednesday night. She was impressive – and that's putting it lightly. As Minnesota brought the offensive firepower, she stood tall, kept her team in it and finished the game with 41 saves, including 16 in the second period.
↓ Inconsistent officiating – Open-ice hits aren't supposed to be allowed, but we saw a huge hip check from Marie-Philip Poulin on Taylor Heise in the second period that went unpenalized – perhaps because Poulin did play the puck on the sequence. (There were a few other big collisions in the game, including one between Heise and Jillian Dempsey and another between Heise and Poulin, but those really were more collisions than actual hits.) Late in the game, some seemingly incidental contact which might have been interference at most was called against Erin Ambrose as "body checking." Make it make sense.
↑ Boreen's debut – Forward Abby Boreen made her PWHL debut for Minnesota, having signed a 10-day contract with the team. She made an immediate impact and had a few good scoring chances as well as five shots on goal. (More on why a lineup spot opened in a moment, but...)
↓ Montreal's power play – Safe to say Montreal's power play is broken. They are now 1-for-22 on the advantage this season, with the lone goal coming from Catherine Dubois. They have the worst power play in the PWHL, despite getting the most opportunities, and it's definitely something for them to work on.
↑ Grace Zumwinkle – Although Grace Zumwinkle didn't find the scoresheet on Wednesday, she played a great game and had numerous dangerous chances, particularly in the third period. She finished the game with seven shots on goal, more than any other player from either team.
↓ Leveille to IR – Minnesota goaltender Amanda Leveille has yet to play this season, and it'll now be at least a little while before she does. The league announced Wednesday that the team has played Leveille on long-term injured reserve. They'll presumably continue to go with a semi-rotation of Nicole Hensley and Maddie Rooney, while also carrying Lauren Bench as a reserve player.
VP's Player of the Game
Taylor Heise – Heise and Minnesota may have ended up on the losing side of this one, but it wasn't for lack of effort. Heise had five shots on goal, took that huge hit from Poulin and was involved in two other big collisions over the course of a quite physical game. Heise is in her first pro season and has five points in six games.
(Photo: Kelly Hagenson/PWHL)