PWHL Minnesota loses regular-season final, awaits playoff fate

Until Saturday, PWHL Minnesota always had another chance. The team needed only one point to secure a playoff berth, and throughout a four-game losing streak, its players reminded themselves they still had time to earn their way into the postseason.

Not any more. In its last opportunity to get that point, Minnesota closed out the regular season with a 5-2 loss at New York, dropping its fifth consecutive game. Though it can still make the playoffs—and has a good chance to do so—the team’s fate depends on results of other games, a most uncomfortable position for a group that spent most of the season among the league leaders.

To knock Minnesota out of the playoffs, both Boston and Ottawa must win their final regular-season games in regulation. Boston hosts Montreal later Saturday afternoon, and Ottawa plays at Toronto on Sunday.

Minnesota’s loss at UBS Arena came to the league’s last-place team and third-string goaltender Lindsey Post. New York, the only team already eliminated from the playoff race, raced to a 2-0 lead in the first period. After Denisa Krizova pulled Minnesota within 2-1, New York countered with a pair of power-play goals in the second period to stretch the margin to 4-1.

Grace Zumwinkle’s shorthanded goal at 2 minutes, 21 seconds of the third period brought Minnesota within 4-2 before New York’s Abby Roque scored on the power play. New York was three-of-four on the power play, and the five total goals were its highest output of the season.

Goaltender Nicole Hensley stopped 27 of 32 shots for Minnesota. Post made 30 saves in her first PWHL start.

Minnesota won five consecutive games before the PWHL’s three-week break for the world championships. It has not won in five tries since league play resumed. It could have secured the playoff berth even with an overtime or shootout loss in any of those five games, but the team hasn’t earned a point since a 3-2 shootout victory over Montreal on March 24.

Saturday, it faced a team it had beaten three times in a row. Minnesota has struggled on both offense and defense recently, a trend that continued in New York.

Minnesota turnovers paved the way for New York’s first two goals, scored by Jaime Bourbonnais at 2:44 and Ella Shelton at 10:09. A hard-working sequence got Minnesota on the board at 13:51. Kelly Pannek won a faceoff in the New York zone, and Zumwinkle passed to Krizova in front of the net for the team’s first goal.

Minnesota has the worst penalty kill in the PWHL, and that haunted it in the second period. New York scored on its first two power-play chances, with Bourbonnais and Jade Downie-Landry extending their team’s lead to 4-1 in the first 10 minutes of the period.

Early in the third period, when Minnesota trailed 4-2, it got a chance to pull closer with consecutive New York penalties. Minnesota had a two-player advantage for 1:15 but could not score on either power play. It went 0-4 on the power play overall.

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