PWHL Toronto secures playoff ticket with OT win in Montreal


A banner day for the league will be set at the Bell Center as another attendance mark is set

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When it came to rebounding, PWHL Toronto got everything it wanted and more as the league set another attendance record in its first-ever game at the Bell Center in Montreal.

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Coming off a two-game losing streak after 11 straight wins, Toronto had a difficult task turning the tide against a Montreal PWHL team playing in front of a record-breaking crowd of 21,105 at the home of the famed Montreal Canadiens. Not to mention an opposing team that once again had a healthy Marie-Philip Poulin.

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Typical of games between these two teams, this game went right to the end. For the second time in five meetings, the game required overtime, with Toronto winning 3-2 in overtime to become the first team to book their ticket to the PHWL playoffs.

Sarah Nurse, who had already scored a goal early in the game, scored the winning goal 13 seconds into overtime when Emma Maltais won a battle along the boards against her Team Canada teammate Erin Ambrose and another Team Canada and PWHL teammate Renata Fast served. Her cross-ice feed was on the stick of Nurse, another Team Canada veteran, for barely a one count before she fired it over the shoulder of Canadian national team goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens for the winning goal.

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It ended a four-game win over Montreal for Toronto this season and spoiled the party for the packed house in Montreal, which seemed ready to blow the roof off the Bell Centre.

No one was more surprised by the season-long domination of the scoreboard against Montreal than Toronto head coach Troy Ryan.

“I think they’re a great opponent,” Ryan told reporters after the game. “Honestly, it’s almost a little surprising to me. I think that's partly because our group finds it easy to get motivated because of some of these key players (on this Montreal team).

“It's not hard to find motivation when you're going up against Poulin shift after shift or getting scoring opportunities against (Ann-Renee) Desbiens,” Ryan said. “I think it’s the characters involved in the situation that make it so special.”

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Toronto gave Poulin a lot of attention in this game, and rightly so now that she's back in form, limiting her to just one assist, no small feat and a big reason why Toronto maintained their first place after this game.

Poulin deservedly received the longest and loudest ovation when the two teams' starters were introduced.

Poulin had tears in her eyes as she acknowledged the outpouring of love, and she wasn't the only one.

“I was so happy for her,” Toronto defender Lauriane Rougeau said afterwards. “She deserves everything and growing up with her and seeing her succeed at every level and then seeing the fans give her the longest ovation tonight – I just think she deserves it.” Honestly I had tears in my eyes for her on the bench.' You go, girl. This is your moment. Take it.'”

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Toronto never trailed in this game and opened the scoring on a goal from captain Blayre Turnbull when their shot through traffic caught part of Desbiens before trickling into the net, right before the Montreal keeper's diving attempt to sweep it away .

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Nurse's first goal of the game 40 seconds into the second period put the momentum back in Toronto's favor after Sarah Bujold beat Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell on a drive just 19 seconds before the end of the first period.

Nurse's goal was a slight deflection of a shot from Allie Munroe, who was celebrating her birthday on Saturday.

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The officials looked at the play closely before deciding it was a legal goal because Nurse's stick was about level with the crossbar when it touched the puck.

Ambrose, who had been such a force for Canada in Canada's gold medal win over the United States at the World Championships last week in Utica, N.Y., brought Montreal back to level with a drive from the point that got past Campbell and ultimately forced overtime.

For her two goals, Nurse was named the game's first star, while Campbell deservedly received second star status as she stopped 37 of Montreal's 39 shots.

Montreal's Desbiens rejected 30 of Toronto's 33 offers to secure Third Star honors.

Toronto now has a full week to prepare before they travel to New York next Saturday, their third straight road game.

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