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Breaking The Ice

After two shutout losses, PWHL Minnesota won game 3 to stay alive in the playoffs.

Maggie Flaherty greets her teammates on the bench after scoring the first playoff goal for PWHL Minnesota. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

ST. PAUL — Finally.

Two minutes, 12 seconds into the second period of Game 3 of the PWHL playoffs, Minnesota found the back of the net.

Maggie Flaherty’s second goal this year was a shot from the top of the circles that found its way through traffic and got Minnesota on the scoreboard for the first time in the best-of-five series. It held up as the game-winner in a 2-0 Minnesota victory as the team fought off elimination from the PWHL semifinals against top-seeded Toronto on Monday night.

The tally broke a team goal drought of 159:51. It hadn’t scored since the regular-season finale in New York on May 4.

“We’ve had great chances, and it was only a matter of time before we broke through,” said forward Liz Schepers, who assisted on both goals for her first multi-point game in the PWHL. “Quick little play low to high, and Maggie made a great shot through a screen.

“I think we could all kind of take a breath there and realize we can do this thing.”

The win for Minnesota, in front of a small, but always energetic, announced crowd of 3,344 at Xcel Energy Center, marks the first playoff win in team history in this inaugural round of playoffs. It also snapped an 0-7 skid for Minnesota this season. Minnesota will return to the X for game four on Wednesday night with a similar message to game three.

“The message was, we need to win one game,” said Minnesota coach Ken Klee. “That’s it.

“We’re certainly pleased with the outcome today.”

Maddie Rooney made 18 saves to help snap a six-game winning streak for Toronto, a team that hadn’t been shut out since the Jan. 1 season opener. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Goaltender Maddie Rooney made her second consecutive start in net for Minnesota, earning the shutout victory with 18 saves. She also kept Toronto off the scoreboard for nearly all of game two, until Jesse Compher scored with 1:25 left in regulation. On Monday, Minnesota fans showed their love for Rooney by chanting her last name throughout the game while waving their white PWHL Playoffs towels.

“The chants, that’s always fun,” said Rooney, who credited her teammates in front of her for their defense. “A lot of blocked shots today. Clearing the rebounds when they were there and really fun atmosphere to play back in our home building.”

Victory snaps lengthy losing streak
It’s been about seven weeks since Minnesota last won a game, earning an exciting shootout victory over Montreal on March 24. It completed a five-game winning streak heading into the International Break. But that momentum was obliterated and turned into a 0-5 stretch to end the regular season, culminating in Minnesota backing into the PWHL playoffs as the No. 4 seed thanks to a little help from an Ottawa loss on the final day of the regular season.

They spent much of the season in first or second place in the six-team league, with not only the playoffs in sight but possibly home-ice advantage, too.

In game three, Minnesota’s third line produced the scoring. Lakeville native Flaherty scored the first goal, with Mound Westonka grad Schepers and Andover alum Claire Butorac assisting. It was Flaherty’s first goal since Valentine’s Day. Schepers recorded her first point since Jan. 27.

Mellissa Channell and a Toronto player tangle along the boards in game three. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Their second goal, about six minutes after the first, was a bit of good fortune from the hockey gods, perhaps making up for some tough bounces and circumstances lately. Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell, who came into the game with a 153:34 shutout streak, didn’t realize where the puck was underneath her in the crease when it was sent into the zone. Denisa Krizova was right there to capitalize with her fourth goal of the year.

“It was certainly good to finally get a bounce for us,” Klee said. “It just allowed us to breathe a little easier.”

Toronto was “out of character”
While Minnesota felt good about getting the necessary victory to extend its season, Toronto’s postgame consisted of what coach Troy Ryan called an “extra-long chat in the dressing room.” He called Monday’s game the team’s “worst of the year.” They were outshot 11-2 in the first period and 22-9 through two periods.

“I wouldn’t say any of us staff and athletes were very happy with that performance,” Ryan said. “A little bit out of character. Our passing was off.

“Just not doing the little things that have made our group successful all year. We’ve just got to be better, without a doubt, in all areas.”

Whether it was Toronto not playing like themselves, or Minnesota finally getting something to go their way, Klee said he was proud of his team effort and resiliency.

Rooney mentioned the word “resilient” when asked for a word to describe the game. Schepers also referred to Minnesota as a “resilient group” in terms of the coaching staff and team leaders doing a good job of instilling belief in the room throughout this tough, winless stretch. They’ve been in many close games and haven’t felt their belief in each other dip, Schepers said.

“It’s great to get back in the win column tonight, obviously in a huge moment,” Schepers said. “But just a credit to the character of our group and how we never quit on each other.

“We’re in this thing now.”

Heather's love for watching hockey started when the Minnesota Wild came to town in 2000. Before that, she caught a few Minnesota Moose games as a youngster, and more recently she's kept up with the Austin Bruins and Fargo Force. She's a writer, freelance journalist and blogger who previously worked as a news reporter in Austin and Fergus Falls, Minn. She enjoys watching sports and closely follows the Wild, Minnesota Twins, IndyCar Series, tennis and prep sports. Heather keeps up her sports blog Thoughts from the Stands. You can follow her on Twitter/X @hlrule or Instagram @hlrule.

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