PWHL Minnesota beats Montreal 3-2 in shootout before lengthy break

With a 25-day break on the horizon, PWHL Minnesota's aim Sunday was to close out a four-game homestand with some points. It didn't get the regulation victory it hoped for, but it rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Montreal 3-2 in a shootout at Xcel Energy Center.

Grace Zumwinkle scored twice in the shootout, and Taylor Heise scored once to secure two points and extend the team's point streak to five games. Minnesota outshot Montreal 35-23 and got strong goaltending from Nicole Hensley, who stopped three of four shots in the shootout.

Minnesota sits in second place going into the long break for the world championships, which will be April 3-14 in Utica, N.Y.

Montreal took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Kati Tabin and Maureen Murphy, despite being outshot 14-5. Minnesota, which got no puck luck in that period, made some of its own in the second.

Natalie Buchbinder scored from the center point at 5:40, and Lee Stecklein followed up with a beauty only 24 seconds later, threading a shot between goaltender Elaine Chuli's stick and the goal post. Outstanding play by Chuli and Hensley kept the score at 2-2 through overtime, forcing the shootout.

Montreal played without injured superstar Marie-Philip Poulin, who missed her third consecutive game.

The game ended an extended stay at home for Minnesota, which resumes play April 18 at Montreal. After the break, the team has five regular-season games remaining, with four of those on the road.

The U.S. has not yet named its roster for the world championships. It will hold a four-day selection camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., beginning Wednesday. Five PWHL Minnesota players are in the mix: forwards Taylor Heise, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Grace Zumwinkle and Kelly Pannek, plus Hensley.

Minnesota general manager Natalie Darwitz said the players not participating in the world championships will continue practicing, while also making time to do community outreach. With the standings so tight, teams can't afford to lose sharpness during the break.

Minnesota is hoping to maintain the momentum it's built in recent games, as it has evolved from a dump-and-chase style to more of a puck-control offense. That showed Sunday, as it spent long stretches of time in the Montreal zone.

The team created numerous quality scoring chances in the first period, even as it fell behind 2-0. It kept the pressure on in the second and pulled even with goals from two defenders. That showcased another recent strength: getting scoring from players beyond the usual suspects.

"When you start to see the role players have a hand in the scoresheet, that means your team is firing on all cylinders,'' Darwitz said. "When your D is scoring and getting primary assists, when your goalie can get a shutout and you can win a game scoring one or two goals, I think that's when you're operating the best. And that's something we've done in this last stretch.''

Darwitz said she will be holding her breath a bit during the world championships, given that good health will be another key to finishing strong and earning home ice for the playoffs. During the last stretch of international play, Heise was injured in a Rivalry Series game against Canada, sidelining her for five games.

Poulin was hurt in a PWHL game earlier this month and has missed three games, including Sunday's.