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O'Neill scores twice, Montreal completes late comeback over Minnesota in PWHL action


MONTREAL — Marie-Philip Poulin expected Kristin O’Neill to have a breakthrough, because she sees the work her teammate puts in daily.

O’Neill scored twice — including the game-winning goal with 46 seconds remaining — and Montreal pulled off an epic comeback for a 4-3 win over Minnesota on Thursday night in the Professional Women’s Hockey League.

The 26-year-old O’Neill entered the night with one goal in 18 games, but finally flashed her pedigree as Canadian national team player on the PWHL stage.

"KO is somebody that since day one I've told her how happy I was to have her on our team. She's determined, she knows how to do little details right,” Poulin said. "When you play with heart and details day in and day out, it's a matter of time."

The PWHL returned to action after a nearly month-long break for the world championship in Utica, N.Y., where Canada won gold.

O’Neill built up some offensive momentum with two goals and three assists in seven games at the worlds.

“Really helped my confidence,” she said. “And I made it a goal of mine to bring that confidence back to this team in Montreal."

World champions Poulin, O’Neill, Laura Stacey and Erin Ambrose had their fingerprints all over Montreal’s victory.

Along with O’Neill’s two goals, Poulin and Stacey each had a goal and two assists while Ambrose had four helpers for Montreal (8-3-4-5), which snapped a four-game losing skid. Elaine Chuli made 25 saves for her sixth win in seven starts.

Montreal trailed 3-2 with 2:49 left in the game when head coach Kori Cheverie pulled the goalie for an extra attacker — and it paid off.

“It was a little early (to pull the goalie), but we felt like if we could get the momentum that early then we could be in a situation to potentially get the regulation win,” Cheverie said. “It just seemed perfect."

Stacey fired what Minnesota head coach Ken Klee described as “a missile” past Maddie Rooney to tie the game with 2:23 on the clock.

O’Neill then capitalized on a late holding penalty from Minnesota’s Maggie Flaherty, scoring her second power-play goal of the night to complete the comeback and bring the 3,084 fans at Verdun Auditorium to their feet.

"We knew it was in there,” Cheverie said of O’Neill. “She's such a defensive-minded player that oftentimes she's thinking defence.

“She almost allows herself to play a little bit more freely because she's so defensively minded and it has led to some offence now and we were joking around, calling her a PP specialist.”

Grace Zumwinkle, Kelly Pannek and Brooke Bryant scored for Minnesota (8-4-3-5), which had its five-game win streak snapped. Sophie Jaques had three assists and Rooney stopped 33 shots.

Montreal moved within one point of Minnesota for second place in the league standings. Both teams have four games remaining.

The difference on Thursday night, Klee said, was special teams. Montreal’s power play — which has struggled all season — went 3-for-4 on the night, and Minnesota was 1-for-2.

“When you go 3-for-4, you have pretty good odds of winning,” he said. “To me, it was the difference in the game.

"Their power play was buzzing, we missed on clears and they made us pay for it."

O’Neill opened the scoring on the power play 7:22 into the first period, converting on her own rebound at the side of the net for her second of the season.

At 17:52, Poulin finished off a slick feed from Ambrose on a tick-tack-toe play started by Stacey, putting Montreal up 2-0 with another power-play goal.

Minnesota shifted the momentum in the second.

The visiting team capitalized on its second power-play opportunity as Zumwinkle scored her 10th of the season off a cross-ice feed from Michela Cava at 4:59 after Montreal’s Mikyla Grant-Mentis took back-to-back penalties early in the period.

Pannek tied it up at 9:23 with a nifty backhand deflection past Chuli after a pass from the point by Jaques.

Minnesota took its first lead of the game 1:24 later as Bryant tapped in a pinpoint feed from Taylor Heise for her first of the season. That advantage lasted until the final minutes of the game.

"I really liked the way we responded (in the second) as well as even the third period," Klee said. "We played a great third period, we got down to three minutes and they're pulling their goalie.

“Unfortunately they get two in the last three minutes to win the game."


Montreal: Hosts Toronto on Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre. A women’s hockey attendance record is expected to be broken at the 21,000-capacity venue.

Minnesota: Visits Ottawa on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2024.