PWHL Toronto win streak hits double-digits with another win over Montreal

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A little luck of the Irish on St Patrick’s Day didn’t hurt, but the way PWHL Toronto is going, one just assumes they would have found a way with or without that little luck.

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Make it an even 10 wins in a row for league-leading Toronto and a perfect 4-0 record against their rivals from Montreal after a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Montreal before 8,850 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

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Toronto and Montreal capped off another successful weekend for this league, which seems incapable of taking a wrong step. PWHL Takeover Weekend games in both Detroit and Pittsburgh clearly showed off two expansion-worthy cities that love their women’s hockey.

But getting back to the actual game played Sunday, that wee bit of luck previously mentioned fittingly came off the stick of Kali Flanagan, whose shot from the corner towards the net caught Montreal goal Ann-Renee Desbiens a little slow coming over to cover the post and deflected off her equipment and in behind her into the net for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

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It was Flanagan’s third goal of the year and second point of the game as she picked up a secondary assist on Toronto’s first goal while earning herself first star of the game status.

That first goal though belonged to the duo of Natalie Spooner and Hannah Miller, with Spooner feeding a no-look pass to Miller after winning a boards-battle behind the Montreal net and Miller rifling one home over the left shoulder of Desbiens.

Full credit to a Montreal team that was without their leading scorer in Marie-Philip Poulin. This was the best they have looked in four games against Toronto led by Laura Stacey who was all over the ice.

Defensively Erin Ambrose was a brick wall, repeatedly thwarting Toronto chances while Desbiens was her normal stellar self in the Montreal net.

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Montreal’s lone goal came in the first period and was a product of pure speed on the part of Kristin O’Neill, who was rewarded with her first PWHL goal.

O’Neill came out of nowhere to win a race to the puck along the boards in Toronto’s end. A nifty toe drag got her a shooting lane and her shot got up and over the glove of Campbell for the only Montreal goal of the afternoon.

This game was again physical, though not to the degree the last meeting between these two teams on March 8 in Toronto. That one was on another level.

Toronto’s vaunted penalty kill once again got the job done killing off a Sam Cogan tripping penalty in the first and then a much tougher late-game kill off a Blayre Turnbull boarding penalty that could just as easily have not been called.

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Turnbull finished her check as Kati Tabin made a play along the boards in Montreal’s zone with 2:20 to go in the game.

Not only did it give Montreal a chance to tie the game but it took away one of Troy Ryan’s best penalty killers in Turnbull.

But it also gave Toronto an opportunity to work on one of the few areas of their game that has been lacking and that is handling the pressure of a late-game push by an opponent. Twice already this year — once in Minnesota and again at home against New York — Toronto has seen opponents score late in the game to deny them a three-point win that had seemed all but sewed up.

Both times Toronto either won the game in the shootout or in overtime but lost two critical points in what is shaping up to be a very tight race for first overall in the league.

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But this time Toronto’s penalty killers, led by Spooner, were aggressive and kept Montreal bottled up in their own end with some feverish forechecking. It meant Montreal couldn’t get an extra attacker on for Desbiens and push the advantage to 6-on-4 until the final 12 seconds of the penalty.

Even so, when they did they managed to put one very solid scoring opportunity together with Campbell spoiling it with a blocker save before Toronto cleared the zone as the final horn sounded.

The win moves Toronto three points clear of Montreal and even with Minnesota at the top of the standings, though Toronto holds a game in hand on Minny.

Toronto is back on the ice Wednesday at home against Boston and then heads to Ottawa for a game Saturday before the league goes into its international break for the World Championship.

At the conclusion of that three-week hiatus the PWHL schedule will resume with Toronto having just five to play before the playoffs.

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