Playoff pressure hits PWHL Minnesota ahead of regular season finale

As a member of the U.S. national team and a former Gopher, Kelly Pannek has played for Olympic gold medals and NCAA championships. But the PWHL Minnesota forward has never faced the kind of pressure her team will experience on Saturday, when it ends the regular season at New York with a playoff berth on the line.

Minnesota has been chasing that prize for more than two weeks, needing only one point to lock up a spot in the PWHL playoffs. It can get that point Saturday by winning in any fashion — regulation, overtime or shootout — or with an overtime or shootout loss. Minnesota would be eliminated from the playoffs if it loses in regulation and Boston and Ottawa both win their final games in regulation.

New York is in last place and is the only team already eliminated from playoff contention. Boston hosts second-place Montreal on Saturday, and Ottawa plays at first-place Toronto on Sunday.

"This is my first time being in a game where you're fighting to make the playoffs," Pannek said. "It's our last guaranteed game, so it feels like a do-or-die situation.

"Everyone knows what's at stake. But we keep reminding each other we're still in control of our own destiny."

Minnesota has gone 0-4 since the league resumed play April 18 following a break for the world championships. It held leads in three of those games, and last Saturday — when getting to overtime would have clinched the playoff berth — it lost 2-1 to Boston on a goal scored with 2.7 seconds left. Minnesota's struggling offense has produced only two goals in its past 10 periods of play.

The team has played well in all four of its games against New York, earning points in every one. Minnesota owns a three-game win streak in the series, outscoring New York 7-1 in their two most recent games.

"We've got to bring some desperation, some urgency, that maybe we haven't had since we returned from the international break," Pannek said. "This is our last chance to keep our fate in our own hands."

Saturday's game will be televised on Bally Sports North Extra, and a free livestream is available on the PWHL's YouTube channel.