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PWHL: All-around performance clinches Montreal’s first playoff spot

Montreal celebrates clinching a post-season berth. (Photo credit: PWHL)

Ann-Renée Desbiens made 31 saves and the defence in front of her blocked over 20 shots as Montreal defeated New York 5-2 to clinch a playoff spot in the first PWHL season on Wednesday night at the Verdun Auditorium.

The game was Montreal’s last regular season home game but they have guaranteed at least one home playoff game in the best-of-five Walter Cup semi-final. The team also moved into second place, three points ahead of Minnesota but with one additional game played. With the regulation loss, New York was eliminated from the post-season chase.

Desbiens was the star of the first period, and the game could have had a very different outcome if not for her stopping all 14 shots she faced in the first period. Alex Carpenter alone had three big scoring chances but Desbiens stood tall.

“Today wasn’t the start we wanted but it’s hard against a team that is fighting for their lives,” said Desbiens. “We did what we needed to survive the first period and then a big second period allowed us to take control.”

“She’s the Ann-Renée Desbiens that we signed and that’s what she’s here to do,” said Montreal head coach Kori Cheverie. “In those moments when we need our goaltending to step up a little bit, that’s what she did.”

Despite being outshot 14-6 in the first period, it was Montreal that went into the locker room with a 1-0 lead, on a very friendly bounce. Catherine Daoust simply shot the puck around the boards, but it ricocheted off the glass and directly towards the net. New York goaltender Corinne Schroeder went out to play the puck, and before she could adjust the puck went off the post and in.

“We all knew we didn’t have our best period, but we were up 1-0. It gives you confidence as a group,” Desbiens said.

It almost wasn’t a 1-0 lead into the first period, but that’s where the team defence comes in. Shorthanded with under six minutes remaining, a loose puck found its way to Jaime Bourbonnais at the right circle. Desbiens was out of position, but Marie-Philip Poulin stepped in front of a shot to save what would have been a shot at a wide open net.

Blocking shots was a point of emphasis for Montreal this week at practice as they wanted to get into as many shooting and passing lanes as possible and make life as easy as possible for their goaltender.

“They blocked 21 shots and I have to give them 21 thank yous,” Desbiens said.

In the second period, Montreal pulled away thanks to a new weapon: the power play. Kristin O’Neill had the puck on the goal line and made a move to the net front. Her first shot was saved by Schroeder but she put her own rebound in to make it 2-0 midway through the period.

The Montreal power play went 2/4 on Wednesday and is now 6/14 over their last three games since the World Championship break. The power play started 5/62 over their first 19 games. With an assist on O’Neill’s goal, Poulin moved into sole possession of first place in PWHL scoring for the first time this season.

Midway through the period, Catherine Dubois took her second penalty of the game after getting into it with Abby Roque. Dubois took the only penalty on the play, for roughing, but the crowd quickly reacted booing Roque every time she touched the puck for the remainder of the game.

“I was really happy,” Dubois said about the crowd booing the American forward. “I was like ‘yeah she deserves it’. I was mad when I got to the penalty box but when I heard the crowd booing Roque I was like ‘thank you, I thought that too’. I was like at least there were other people who saw what happened,” she laughed.

Dubois got the last laugh. Shortly after her penalty expired, Amanda Boulier fired a shot from the point that was saved by Schroeder. Dubois was right on the doorstep and put in her second goal of the year.

“I was really happy for [Dubois],” Cheverie said. “She knows she’s on the fourth line, and that to take two penalties was something she knows she’s not supposed to do but to come back and score right away after that second penalty, that’s the character [she has].”

Montreal added to their lead with their second power play goal. Laura Stacey got a one-timer off a pass from Erin Ambrose, and fired it past Schroeder to make it 4-0.

It was Ambrose’s second assist of the game, and since coming back from the World Championships, she has one goal and six assists in three games. She has moved into a tie for fifth in PWHL scoring, and leads all PWHL defenders in scoring by three points.

Ella Shelton, who is second to Ambrose, broke Desbiens’s shutout bid with 13 seconds remaining in the second period. She created a turnover and used her speed to get herself a breakaway and made no mistake to beat Desbiens.

New York, who needed to avoid a regulation loss to stave off elimination, went for it in the third period down three goals. They pulled the goalie during a power play with over 15 minutes left in the period, but neither side could score.

With less than five minutes remaining, Alexandra Labelle, who trained at Verdun over the last few years and played with the Montreal Force, bounced a puck off Desbiens and in for her first PWHL goal to make it 4-2.

That was as close as New York would come. Mélodie Daoust, playing her first game after signing a second 10-day contract with the team scored the empty netter to seal a 5-2 win.

“I am very proud of our group. I am proud of their perseverance,” said Cheverie. “I think our group has come a long way. I couldn’t have imagined the season any better. It’s nice to enjoy the moment, but there is season left to be done.”

Montreal’s next game will be Saturday in Ottawa before a week off and their season finale in Boston. The post-season will begin on May 8 in the PWHL, but there is still a lot to be decided within the order of the top four teams, and even who those four will be.


TOR 21 10 4 0 7 38 54 45 47 X 7 7 NA
MTL 22 9 3 5 5 38 55 53 44 X 7 7 NA
MIN 21 8 4 3 6 35 50 43 44 1 10 10
OTT 21 8 1 6 6 32 57 52 41 4 10
BOS 22 6 4 3 9 29 44 53 35 7 4
NY 21 3 4 3 11 20 42 56 29 E 0

Magic number = Number of points needed to be won by the team, or lost by the 5th place team to clinch a playoff spot

Tragic number = Number of points needed to be lost by the team, or won by the 4th place team to be eliminated

#1 = Number of points needed to be won by the team, or lost by the 2nd place team to clinch first place

Home = Number of points needed to be won by the team, or lost by the 3rd place team to clinch a top-two spot

Gold = Number of Gold Points earned by the team. The #1 pick will be determined by the team with the most points in games after they are eliminated from the post-season

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