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‘Gut-Wrenching’ Loss For PWHL MIN

PWHL Minnesota has a tough time scoring lately during 0-3 stretch.

Kelly Pannek, pictured here during a March 24 game against Montreal, scored Minnesota's only goal in a 2-1 loss to Boston on April 27, 2024. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Things were just going a little too well in the Minnesota sports world. And the luck didn’t extend to PWHL Minnesota in its final home game of the regular season on Saturday afternoon against PWHL Boston.

It was a solid sports week in the land of 10,000 lakes. The slow-starting Minnesota Twins took advantage of the worst team in baseball and rattled off five wins in a row. The Minnesota Vikings, by many accounts, had an exciting and successful NFL Draft, taking quarterback J.J. McCarthy in the first round. And the Minnesota Timberwolves? They’re in totally new territory with a 3-0 series lead over the Phoenix Suns in the best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

But the vibes shifted backward when Minnesota native Hannah Brandt scored a buzzer-beating, breakaway goal with 2.7 seconds left in regulation for a 2-1 PWHL Boston victory over PWHL Minnesota.

“In my head, we needed to win that game outright,” Brandt said. “So, I think I saw the puck going up, so I just started going. And Hil (Hilary Knight) had it along the wall. I think she just gave me a no-look pass, put it right in the middle, and then I guess it went in the net.”

PWHL Boston forward, and Minnesota native/Hill-Murray graduate, Hannah Brandt celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal with only seconds left in regulation. (Photo courtesy of PWHL)

Boston needed the win to keep its playoff hopes alive, while Minnesota failed for the third game in a row to clinch a playoff spot. Scoring the game-winner when her team needed it so badly hadn’t “sunk in yet” for Brandt only minutes after the game.

“But we needed that win so bad for our team,” Brandt said. “It just felt good to come out on top.”

With four of the six PWHL teams making the playoffs, and New York already eliminated, it leaves Minnesota, Ottawa and Boston fighting to get in. Two of those three teams will join Toronto and Montreal, who’ve already clinched their playoff spots. Minnesota (8-4-3-7) is in third place with 35 points, three ahead of Boston and Ottawa with 32 points each. Minnesota and Ottawa each have two games remaining, while Boston has one left.

Boston got the victory Saturday with a couple of unlikely goals. Minnesota took a 1-0 lead last in the second period when Kelly Pannek pounced on one of the many juicy rebounds Boston goaltender Emma Soderberg left throughout the game.

But instead of pouring on the goals, Minnesota clung to a 1-0 lead in the third period and took an early penalty. Minnesota and Boston have the two worst power plays by percentage this season (9.3% for MIN, 7.7% for BOS), but this time, Boston’s Alina Müller scored to tie the game less than two minutes into the third. It was only the fourth power-play tally for Boston this season.

Boston had what Brandt called one of their best periods so far this season in the third. With 18 shots on goal, she was right; that’s the most for Boston in any period this season. Saturday, they recorded 12 shots on goal in the first two periods combined. Minnesota also had a late power play with about three minutes remaining in the tie game, but they spent about the first half of that in their zone and still couldn’t find the back of the net at the other end to break the tie.

“We’re just finding ways to lose hockey games right now,” Minnesota coach Ken Klee said. “Which is unfortunate because we’re playing well. We had lots of chances to win the game, extend the lead, get the lead… and we were the better team for two periods. And again, we found a way to lose it in the last two seconds there.

“It’s gut-wrenching.”

A month ago, Minnesota took a five-game winning streak into the three-week break for the World Championships. Since coming back, they’re 0-3 with three failed chances at securing a playoff spot, including a 4-0 loss at Ottawa in the last game.

PWHL Minnesota had a lot to celebrate during their season a month ago, winning five games in a row before the three-week break. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Klee was still pleased with how his team played Saturday and the scoring chances they generated. If they keep getting as many chances as they have been, they’re going to score, he said. 

“They’re trying to score goals and make plays at the same time,” Klee said. “Like I said, first two periods, I loved our game. I loved our intensity and everything.”

On paper, it certainly looks like the momentum was demolished once they hit the lengthy break, going from a winning streak to three consecutive losses. But Klee looked at the positive of that 0-3 mark, noting that they had the lead with three minutes to go in one game (a 4-3 loss at Montreal on April 18) and then had a chance to get a point if Saturday’s game reached overtime. Minnesota was 2.7 seconds away from taking a 1-1 game to overtime that would have sent it to the playoffs.

The first week back from the break was tougher, with only one practice back together – Minnesota had six international players on the Worlds rosters – and then coming into PWHL games right away. But that’s not any excuse, because other teams were faced with the same thing and pulled out wins, said Minnesota goaltender Nicole Hensley.

“I think we’ve seen a couple times this year, we got a little bit cold in the offensive zone, then all of a sudden it breaks open,” Hensley said. “I think at this point, we’ve just got to stick with it, keep doing the things that have made us really good over the course of the season.”

The loss made for a pretty quiet Minnesota locker room after the game, said Hensley, who made 30 saves in the game.

“I think you get that close to getting the point you need and don’t get it, that’s pretty frustrating,” Hensley said. “But I think we need to take away from the game that we played really well and it was a bad 10 seconds there at the end. I think we have to stop being in the mindset in the third period that we just need to hold it if we go into it with a lead. We need to keep pushing to get the next one.”

Hensley added that the team’s mindset is still fine, following a good week of practice and playing well against Boston. It’s about finishing the plays, she said. Hensley is also confident in their team because of the leadership they have in the room, with players who’ve played in gold medal games, World Championships, the Olympics etc.

“We have a lot of people that have played in a lot of very important games over the course of their careers and coming out on top,” Hensley said. “So, people know how to do that. Again, it’s just believing in our group and sticking with what’s made us good over the course of the year.”


2024 PWHL Draft comes to Minnesota
During one of the television timeouts, the PWHL announced via the videoboard that the 2024 PWHL Draft will be held in June in Minnesota. The six teams will make 42 draft picks over seven rounds. The announcement came with a Minnesota-inspired logo.

A new banner in honor of the PWHL Minnesota inaugural season was unveiled prior to the April 27, 2024 game. (MHM Photo / Heather Rule)

Inaugural-season banner
Before the game, Minnesota captains Kendall Coyne Schofield, Kelly Pannek and Lee Stecklein addressed the crowd from center ice, thanking the fans before unveiling a special banner to commemorate the PWHL inaugural season. Coyne Schofield said: “We couldn’t have done it without you… You have proved Minnesota is the state of hockey.” The first 5,000 fans in attendance Saturday received a replica version of the banner, which hangs from the rafters near the lighthouse at Xcel Energy Center.

Fan Appreciation
On Fan Appreciation Day, attendance nearly cracked 10,000 at Xcel Energy Center for Minnesota’s final home game of the regular season. Paid attendance was announced at 9,977, the third-largest crowd for Minnesota this season. Minnesota went 5-2-2-3 on home ice this season.

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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