No Rest for the Weary: Minnesota 1, Montreal 2
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No Rest for the Weary: Minnesota 1, Montreal 2

No Rest for the Weary: Minnesota 1, Montreal 2 by Zoë Hayden

A battered Minnesota team came into Place Bell with a short bench and couldn't get the equalizer late, giving Montreal three regulation points and making their hold on first place in the league more tenuous.

What happened?

Montreal got on the board early – and on the power play no less. The second unit came out and Kati Tabin fired a shot from the center point that deflected off of Claire Dalton and behind Maddie Rooney. From that point forward, Montreal settled into a tougher defensive posture that we haven't really seen from them often before, knowing that despite Minnesota's battered lineup they still had plenty of offensive weapons who could burn them in transition. This became a game without a lot of shots – neither team put up double digits in the shot column in any given period – and Minnesota was forced to generate offense by sheer willpower.

Late in the first period, that willpower paid off. Minnesota had cycled for awhile in the offensive zone without being able to really take the puck to a threatening area of the ice, and Michela Cava recognized the opportunity to get some changes while keeping possession, so she carried the puck back out into the neutral zone, and then charged ahead to bring it back in. That put Kendall Coyne Schofield on the ice. Cava and Claire Butorac protected the puck along the boards, and Butorac managed to get free for a shot from the left circle. Elaine Chuli let up a juicy rebound, and Coyne Schofield was able to pick it up and flip a backhand over Chuli for the equalizer. It was an impressive bit of forechecking by Cava and Butorac to create a scoring opportunity for their captain.

Montreal took the lead again in the second period. Sophie Jaques went to the box for hooking, and while Montreal didn't capitalize on the actual power play, they maintained possession, held the puck in along the wall, and generated a short 2-on-1 opportunity. Kristin O'Neill flipped the puck to Sarah Lefort, who passed across to Madison Bizal. Rooney saved Bizal's shot, but Lefort drove the net to pick up the rebound, and it was 2-1.

Minnesota pressured in the third, but Montreal did too. Chuli was outstanding and time just ran out on Minnesota, who were unable to capitalize on three power play opportunities throughout the game thanks to Montreal's strong penalty killing and shot blocking. Minnesota now has 21 points in the standings to Montreal's 20 – but Montreal has the game in hand.

Three up, three down

↑ The Montreal power play – Per HEOTP's Jared Book, Kori Cheverie took the opportunity to get back at the media a little, in French, after the game:

In a close game, Montreal converted on one power play opportunity, and scored the game-winner shortly after a penalty expired, building off of the momentum generated by the advantage. It has to feel like a massive relief for the team that still holds the league-worst power play.

↓ Still, the Minnesota schedule – For the second time this season, Minnesota was forced to play a back-to-back on the road, and this time were dealing with some injuries. Minnesota probably knew going into this season that they would have perhaps the toughest road schedule, being so geographically distant from the other teams, but that doesn't necessarily make it any easier to deal with. They've taken three of six points on each of these back-to-back situations. They still sit atop the league, but barely, and were forced to play this game with just 17 skaters (11F and 6D) due to injuries.

↑ Michela Cava – Minnesota only rolled three centers, with Taylor Heise and Liz Schepers being among those injured. Cava has been the second-line center for the last few games but that role had an elevated importance on Sunday, and she rose to the occasion. She drove zone entries for Minnesota like a machine, carrying the puck in herself, forcing it deep, and protecting the puck at the blueline and along the boards. She may get moved back to wing when Schepers and Heise come back into the lineup but she demonstrated that she can do great work with heavy top six minutes. Her determination on the puck ultimately created the scoring opportunity that led to Coyne Schofield's goal.

↓ Shots on goal – This might be one of the most even and prolific defensive games we've seen in the PWHL so far. Teams were credited with 36 blocks between them throughout the game. Sophie Jaques alone had four of her shots blocked in the final minute.

↑ Montreal depth – Montreal won this game on the backs of their depth, not their stars, which speaks not just to the quality of their complete lineup but also to how well Minnesota did in a difficult situation to shut down Montreal's best players. Kelly Pannek rarely left the ice and made things hard for Montreal's top six.

↓ Finishing strong? – While Minnesota had possession in the offensive zone in the dying seconds of the game, the players seemed to just stop playing with about four seconds left on the clock, though they had an opportunity to get another shot off. Apparently a noise from the crowd was mistaken for the final horn. Montreal's crowd of 10,172 was definitely loud – and singlehandedly prevented one last late scoring opportunity for the visitors. That's one adjustment players will have to make as the season goes on. Not many of them are used to dealing with this amount of crowd noise, and in the playoffs, it's going to get even louder.

VP's Player of the Game

Kendall Coyne Schofield – The Minnesota captain led the game with 5 shots and got her fourth goal of the season. Literally nothing phases her – she took an absolute beating on Saturday against Ottawa and seemed to have the freshest legs on the ice.

(Photo: PWHL)