PWHL Minnesota loses regular-season finale, awaits playoff fate

PWHL Minnesota chose not to dwell on its lost opportunities. Over the past 2½ weeks, as the team squandered four chances to clinch a playoff berth, players reminded themselves they still had time to earn their way into the postseason.

Not anymore. Minnesota fumbled its last shot at picking up the one point it needed, losing 5-2 to New York in Saturday's regular-season finale. Hours after dropping its fifth consecutive game, the team took another punch to the gut when Boston scored a late goal to defeat Montreal 4-3 and surge into the playoffs.

Minnesota could have secured its spot by earning a single point in any of its past three games, but all it can do now is watch and wait. Ottawa will grab the final playoff spot if it beats Toronto in regulation Sunday night. If Ottawa loses in regulation or if the game goes to overtime, Minnesota is in.

"Now we're just watching to see the results of [other] games," Minnesota forward Kelly Pannek said. "And unfortunately, we can't do anything about it."

They had their chances. On April 18, when the PWHL resumed play after a break for the world championships, Minnesota was on a five-game winning streak and in contention for a top two seed in the playoffs. In its last five games of the regular season, it earned zero points.

The team was done in by some familiar problems Saturday at UBS Arena. A struggling offense, an error-prone defense and poor special-teams play put Minnesota behind early and prevented it from rallying.

New York, already eliminated from playoff contention and sitting in last place, raced to a 2-0 lead and never trailed. Minnesota turnovers paved the way for both of those first-period goals, by Jaime Bourbonnais and Ella Shelton. Denisa Křížová pulled Minnesota within 2-1 at 13 minutes, 51 seconds of the opening period, but New York responded with a pair of power-play goals in the second period.

Goaltender Lindsey Post — a third-stringer who had played less than 15 minutes all season — stopped 30 of 32 Minnesota shots, and New York's aggressive penalty kill held Minnesota without a power-play goal on four tries.

New York was 3-of-4 on the power play, and the five total goals were its highest output of the season.

"It just seems to be the way these past five games have gone for us," Pannek said. "It's not a lack of effort or a lack of intensity or a lack of compete. It just seems like there's a bounce here or there that isn't going our way.

"When that happens, it's hard to fight against it. I'm proud of the way our team competed to try to get back into the game. It just wasn't happening."

Minnesota goaltender Nicole Hensley stopped 27 of 32 shots, and Grace Zumwinkle scored Minnesota's second goal, a shorthanded tally in the third period.

Montreal almost gave Minnesota a gift with a late comeback in Boston. Needing a regulation victory to reach the playoffs, Boston darted to a 3-0 lead, then Montreal roared back to tie it with three goals in the final period.

A tie would have clinched the playoff berth for Minnesota. But Boston's Kaleigh Fratkin banked a shot off Montreal's Amanda Boulier with 1:20 remaining in the game, leaving Minnesota's fate to be determined Sunday in Toronto.

"We had a lot of momentum going into the [world championships] break," Pannek said. "We could never get it going in these last five games. But if we make it into the playoffs, it's a totally fresh start."

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.