Last Stop: Minnesota 2, New York 5
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Last Stop: Minnesota 2, New York 5

Last Stop: Minnesota 2, New York 5 by Zoë Hayden

Still needing just one point to make the PWHL playoffs, Minnesota fell to New York in regulation. This was Minnesota's fifth straight loss since the international break, and the result puts their playoff fate completely out of their control.

What happened?

Minnesota came out with some pressure, but New York had the next few chances and then got the first goal with the fourth line cycling. Brooke Hobson played catch with Jaime Bourbonnais up high and Bourbonnais ripped a shot through traffic to make it 1-0 just three minutes into the frame.

New York made Minnesota's life difficult in the neutral zone but once they got into the zone it was a flurry, with Sophie Jaques and Taylor Heise roaming every part of the zone, forcing pucks in on Lindsey Post, but she made big saves through traffic.

But New York's fourth line went back onto the ice and pressured for an offensive zone faceoff, and Howie Draper took the opportunity to change during a TV timeout to get their top line on the ice. Minnesota then surrendered another goal to Ella Shelton, who rifled it through traffic, where it tipped off of Buchbinder to go down and in. It was reviewed extensively for a high stick, possibly by Jessie Eldridge, but it was called a good goal, extending the lead for the home team and putting Minnesota in desperation mode.

Late in the first, Minnesota cut the lead in half with a goal by Denisa Křížová in the paint, and it was still anybody's game.

In the second, Minnesota put themselves behind the eight-ball yet again by going on the penalty kill, and Bourbonnais scored her second of the game in short order to make it 3-1. Immediately afterwards, Heise and Eldridge collided in the neutral zone – a collision that sent Heise to the locker room temporarily and Eldridge to the box for 2. When Minnesota finally got the backdoor look they were hoping for, nobody was home, and New York blocked most of their shots on the way to the net.

New York pressured hard around Nicole Hensley and while they didn't score they did draw another penalty – and went up 4-1 on yet another power play goal, this time with Jade Downie-Landry hopping on a loose puck in the slot that Minnesota couldn't clear and beating Hensley clean.

The best chance of Minnesota in the second came off of Kendall Coyne Schofield harassing New York into a turnover and feeding Heise in the slot, but Post made the save.

The third period was do or die for Minneota, and they forced offense during the penalty kill this time. With Brittyn Fleming in the box, New York didn't protect the puck well while changing on the fly. Kelly Pannek pounced on the loose puck while penalty killing and took it to the net, poking at it in Post's pads. It squirted free, and Post was stuck, with Pannek pinned against her by a New York defender. Grace Zumwinkle drove into the paint to put it into the open cage for a jailbreak goal, cutting New York's lead to 4-2.

Minnesota failed to capitalize on an extended 5-on-3 opportunity, and you could sense a little blood in the water. New York went back to the advantage on a bench minor to Minnesota for too many players – and promptly made it 5-2 on a wrister by Abby Roque, fed with a perfect cross-ice pass by Eldridge.

Minnesota got a late power play opportunity with about 4 minutes to go, but they seemed hesitant to shoot and didn't generate the chances they would have needed to start putting a few more behind Post.

With a 5-2 victory, New York played spoiler yet again. This was possibly their best complete performance of the season, and closes out the year on a high note – while Minnesota has to scoreboard-watch to see if they will have a postseason.

Three up, three down

↑ Playoff chaos – Minnesota needed just one point to clinch the playoffs, going all the way back to late March. They went into the international break on a five-game win streak. Then, they came back from the break – and lost five straight in regulation, never getting that single point. With Boston beating Montreal in regulation (and in thrilling fashion) on Saturday night as well, Minnesota now faces the very real possibility that they may miss the playoffs.

They have to look to the result of Ottawa's game against Toronto tomorrow. If Ottawa wins in regulation, it becomes a three-way tie with Boston, Ottawa, and Minnesota all sitting at 35 points in the standings – and Minnesota loses the three-way tiebreaker and ends up in fifth place. That game is must-win in regulation for Ottawa as well. If they don't earn all 3 points, they are out of the postseason – and Minnesota hangs on by a thread.

Boston clinched with their win over Montreal, and have squeezed their way there on the strength of late-game tallies in two straight games to pick up regulation wins. It's wild to think that Minnesota has fallen so far so quickly and that Boston was able to make up so much ground, but the 3-point system has made regulation wins just that valuable.

"We took our fate out of our hands with how we played today and how we played, honestly, the last five games," Kelly Pannek said. "So now we're just watching to see what the results are of those games, and unfortunately we can't do anything about it."

↓ That penalty kill, among other things – Minnesota went 0-4 on the power play, and just 1-4 on the PK (though that successful kill did also yield a shorthanded goal). Kelly Pannek said that from her perspective as a penalty killer, every goal surrendered while shorthanded has felt different. "I think that's where it's hard. It might be a lack of a clear on this or a lack of a stick and a lane on that one, or you need to shot block and you don't get it, or a lack of rotation... It seems like every one is just a little bit different," she said. "It's not from a lack of effort. It's not from a lack of trying to figure it out – talking about it, watching the film, our coaches giving us different feedback on it. It's just sometimes when it rains, it pours."

Earlier in the season, special teams kind of felt like a red herring and not indicative of a team's overall performance, and that's still the case in some ways – the sample size in the PWHL is still pretty small. But the fact of the matter is that Minnesota might miss out on the playoffs largely because they surrendered so many power play goals down the stretch.

↑ Lindsey Post, back in action – After playing half a period in relief game before last, Post got her first start of the season, something she found out about before practice on Friday. Getting the win for her became the rallying point for her team.

"I think what we're learning as a team is that the most important thing is that we compete for each other, that we want to see the people around us win," said New York head coach Howie Draper. "Which was one of the things tonight that you saw, and Lindsey mentioned it – is that everybody in that room was playing the game for her."

"She's just been so consistent all year," said Jaime Bourbonnais of Post. "You know, being the third goalie is a tough position to be in. But she's always the first at the rink, she's always on the ice working extra after practice. On days off, she's going to the rink. So, you know, just seeing her in net today and seeing her shine like she did... And again, the heart that we showed blocking tons of shots for her. I'm just so proud of her and the group for for the character that we showed out there today. I'm proud of Posty."

For Post's part, she was all smiles after the game, basking in a well-earned moment in the spotlight.

In the SDHL over the last four seasons, while Post was getting a lot of starts, she didn't have a goalie coach to work with. Being the third goalie with PWHL New York has been an adjustment. "You're the third goalie, so you just have to be the best teammate you can be and be supportive... Go out and practice and work your butt off until you're ready," she said. "I'll be the first one to say that that at the start of the season, I wasn't ready. I was coming back from Sweden; I wasn't the best goalie I could be. And then I worked really hard with our goalie coach and I put in hours and hours with him this season. Today when I got in the in the net, I was really confident in my game because I worked so many hours this year and actually had the resources and people working with me every day."

"I think from the start of the season til now I'm completely different goalie. I'm excited to see how much better I can get in the future," Post said.

↓ New York needs to go back to the drawing board – But not even about the on-ice aspect – I'm talking about everything around it. First and foremost, New York needs to get a permanent home rink. Then they need to start advertising like crazy. You should be seeing Abby Roque's face on subway ads. You should be seeing clips of Corinne Schroeder making saves on morning shows. And then you need to know where to go see them play and how to get there on public transit.

This is a really fun team. Prudential or UBS could be a great home for them. If the PWHL wants to be in the New York market, they need eyeballs on this team and the city needs to get to know them. The fans that do show up are invested and positive. Getting some consistency with the team will be good for the players and staff, not to mention the fanbase.

↑ Pride – In finding their stride in these last two games, with nothing on the line, playing for pride seemed to resonate. "There's two things that you can compete for," said Howie Draper. "You can compete for outcome. And you can compete for yourself and for pride. And for me, I think it's way more powerful, when you have a why to compete for... [With] outcome, there's so many other things that come come along with that. And I don't know if it's a deeper sense of purpose, the outcome. But the pride is."

↓ There's a first time for everything – New York's season was disappointing, but not without positives. Somebody did have to finish at the bottom. With the first overall pick locked up, New York gets to be the first team to really begin their PWHL offseason. "I'm gonna watch! It's good hockey," said Jaime Bourbonnais when asked if she would watch the playoffs. "Better than the NHL playoffs," she added. (She may have been joking a little, but I'm not – I think they definitely will be.)

VP's Player of the Game

Jessie Eldridge – Her two primary assists were beauties – she set up Shelton before driving the net on the first, and her long pass to Roque for the power play dagger was excellent. She's versatile and provides a multidimensional offense that Pascal Daoust has to feel lucky he's got locked up for a couple more seasons.

(Photo: PWHL)