Shootout practice pays off in PWHL Minnesota's win over Ottawa

About every other week, PWHL Minnesota incorporates a shootout game into its practice session. Given the stakes, the drill can get pretty intense.

"The winner of the shootout gets an orange," coach Ken Klee said. "The loser has to bite a lemon. It's kind of fun."

An even sweeter prize was up for grabs Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center. In the first real shootout in its history, Minnesota bested Ottawa in a five-round thriller to earn a 4-3 victory. After giving up three consecutive goals to lose an early lead, Minnesota could have wound up with a lemon, but it finished strong to stay undefeated against Ottawa.

Denisa Křížová led Minnesota with her first two goals of the season and started off the shootout with another. Grace Zumwinkle, who assisted on both of Křížová's goals, and Taylor Heise also scored in the shootout. Goaltender Maddie Rooney allowed only one Ottawa goal on four shootout attempts to capture an extra point for Minnesota.

Křížová said no one wants to bite the lemon when the team works on shootouts. That tension helped prepare Minnesota for the real thing, preventing a sour ending Tuesday.

"You want to score," she said. "It kind of puts a little pressure on you, and that's great practice for these moments. We just believed in ourselves that we could finish the game in our favor."

BOXSCORE: PWHL Minnesota 4, Ottawa 3 (SO)

The game began a stretch of four consecutive home contests for Minnesota, a span that ends March 24 when the league begins a three-week break for the world championships. The team is now 4-0 against Ottawa after Tuesday's rally.

Minnesota's offense forced Ottawa goalie Sandra Abstreiter to work hard all night, outshooting Ottawa 47-25. The margin was 14-4 in the third period, when Minnesota came back from a special-teams stumble to tie the score and force overtime.

Forward Abby Boreen, on the final day of a 10-day contract, opened the scoring for Minnesota at 7 minutes, 23 seconds of the first period. The former Gopher was reunited with Heise, her college teammate, and netted the fourth goal of her nine-game run with the team.

Though Křížová hadn't scored in the season's first 15 games, she kept working, and she was rewarded at 11:22 on a good feed from Zumwinkle. But when Minnesota began to commit penalties, Ottawa used the league's top-ranked power play to surge to the lead.

Minnesota is last in the PWHL in penalty-killing success (75.6%), and Ottawa took full advantage. Hayley Scamurra scored only 34 seconds after Minnesota's first penalty to cut the margin to 2-1. After Kateřina Mrázová tied it by finishing off a slick passing sequence at 15:26 of the first period, Ottawa took a 3-2 lead on its next power play, with Mrázová's tap-in 52 seconds into the second period.

Rooney, making consecutive starts for the first time this season, shut Ottawa down for the next 44 minutes. She finished with 22 saves, and Křížová got the tying goal. She collected another well-placed pass from Zumwinkle and shot high to beat Abstreiter.

Since Křížová had the hot hand, Klee started the shootout with her. She scored, and Scamurra matched her. But Rooney stopped the next three Ottawa shots, while Zumwinkle and Heise both faked to get Abstreiter to drop and then shot over her.

"I thought every line was good today," Klee said. "I was really happy with the effort."