Give and Take: Toronto 4, Minnesota 3 (OT)
- 4 min read

Give and Take: Toronto 4, Minnesota 3 (OT)

Give and Take: Toronto 4, Minnesota 3 (OT) by Zoë Hayden

It's past the midpoint of the season for both of these teams. At the season start in January, Minnesota looked unbeatable and Toronto looked like they couldn't buy a goal. Now, in February, they're just two evenly matched teams trying to get three points – but they'd have to settle for less.

What happened?

It was an even first period at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis, home of the men's Golden Gophers team at the University of Minnesota. Teams went back and forth and traded chances, some of them quality, but neither time seemed to be able to get sustained pressure going.

Toronto got on the board first, as Emma Maltais entered the zone and fed Blayre Turnbull. Turnbull was able to use her size to protect the puck and maneuver into the slot around Mellissa Channell, where her shot gently slipped through the pads of Nicole Hensley.

Minnesota, to their credit, had a quick response. Sophie Jaques went deep while her team was forechecking and lingered by the net, unmarked, to pick up a feed from Kelly Pannek to the front. Jaques flipped a no-hesitation backhander past Kristen Campbell and it was 1-0 – and Jaques' first tally of the inaugural PWHL season. At this point, each team only had 3 shots on goal, and had come out even with some sneaky goals.

In the second, Minnesota and Toronto traded extended looks in the offensive zone, and came out even again. Toronto got an early power play goal, just two minutes in, from Kali Flanagan, whose one-timer cleanly found its way behind Hensley through a crowd. Minnesota's response took longer, but it was another one-timer from up high that beat Campbell this time, as Coyne Schofield fed Natalie Buchbinder, and Buchbinder just unloaded a shot that found the back of the net.

In the third period, Minnesota was doing pretty much everything they could to get a regulation win, outshooting Toronto by a margin of 13 to 4. But nothing was going in for them, and both goaltenders made some point-blank stops to protect the deadlock.

Sarah Nurse gave Toronto the lead, though, with just 5 minutes left on the game clock. Renata Fast fired a shot on target and Nurse was waiting by the side of the net to tap it home.

Minnesota pressured hard, pulling Hensley with 1:44 to go after a timeout. There were a lot of stoppages in this final sequence – frozen pucks by Campbell, a Toronto icing call. Toronto had lots of opportunities to get the puck out in the final minute, but Minnesota seemed to just keep it in every time. When the puck came to Jaques, she was winding up for big slapshots. With 21 seconds to go, one of those found its way through from the center point, and it was all tied up at 3.

The story of this game seemed to be goals that the netminder probably wants back, and so was the case in overtime. Nurse's shot hit Jaques on its way towards Hensley's net, changing direction just enough that it caught Hensley on the wrong side of her crease as she'd slid over to try to square up to Nurse. Toronto takes 2 points in the overtime win, and now owns the longest win streak on the PWHL season to date.

Three up, three down

↑ Defense – With four goals from blueliners in this game, it was a fun night to be a defender, but there was also a lot of good defense in general being played in this game as well. When you look at blocked shots credited, Minnesota was doing most of the blocking early, but Toronto was doing most of the blocking late.

↓ Not to be a jerk about it, but... probably still the officiating? And clarity?– There were several checks along the boards away from the puck that genuinely seemed like interference to me, which went un-called and un-commented on by the broadcast crew, and which kind of made me feel like I was losing my mind.

↑ Sophie Jaques – While it's an absolute bummer that she deflected Nurse's OT winner past Hensley, she otherwise had an excellent game, and still would have even if her two goals were erased from the scoresheet. She was putting shots on net, playing her mobile game, and was being defensively responsible on top of that. And watching her carry through the neutral zone on a power play with a head of steam is genuinely terrifying. She's routinely skating around 25:00 for Ken Klee and she's thriving on the huge minutes. (Yes – the PWHL website has TOI data now!)

↓ Injuries to Minnesota's centers – With Taylor Heise ending up on LTIR for her upper body injury sustained in the Rivalry Series, and Liz Schepers missing games as well, Minnesota has been forced to dig deep this month. They have signed Abigail Boreen to her second 10-day contract and lots of players have been stepping up, but a consequence of this is that their breakouts and cycles are less organized when the bottom six is on the ice. The makeshift second line of Křížová, Cava, and Zumwinkle might be the best thing they have going right now, and it probably could have been utilized more to get some more offense going. Křížová led her team with 4 shots on net in just 14:48 of ice time.

↑ Undefeated, as a team – Toronto had a flawless February – they did not lose a single game. While Natalie Spooner kicked off this streak, she hasn't had to keep it going on her own; she's been held without a point in the last three Toronto games (though she did score twice in the shootout to lift them over New York). On Tuesday night, she was held without a shot on goal. Now that Toronto is getting other players pitching in on offense (like Sarah Nurse with 2 goals on 5 shots last night), their winning ways look a lot less tenuous. They are also undefeated in games that headed to extra time or a shootout.

↓ Moving up (or down) – Because of the OT split of the three available points, Minnesota stays in second place in the PWHL and Toronto hangs on at third place. Toronto was just a few seconds away from taking over that #2 spot (!) before Jaques sent the game to overtime. They'll get another chance on Saturday in Ottawa.

VP's Player of the Game

Kristen Campbell – The Toronto netminder has now won 7 straight starts and was sharp to everything on Tuesday night, getting beat only on long shots through a lot of bodies and a very sneaky backhander by Jaques. Toronto is within spitting distance of the top of the PWHL thanks largely to Campbell's steadiness.

(Photo: Kelly Hagenson/PWHL)