PWHL Semifinals Preview: Toronto vs. Minnesota
- 7 min read

PWHL Semifinals Preview: Toronto vs. Minnesota

PWHL Semifinals Preview: Toronto vs. Minnesota by Melissa Burgess

As the top seed following the culmination of the PWHL's inaugural regular season, PWHL Toronto had the privilege of selecting its semifinal opponent. Toronto chose #4 Minnesota, with the best-of-five series beginning Wednesday night.


Toronto won three of four meetings, including two in regulation and one in overtime. Minnesota won the first meeting between the teams.

What happened?

Toronto won the season series, outscoring Minnesota by a combined 13-8. It’s a testament to both Toronto’s offense and their defense/goaltending that they had steady success all season long, with Kristen Campbell stopping 102 of 110 shots faced against Minnesota.

Top performers for Toronto in the head-to-head series include Emma Maltais, who recorded a goal and five assists, and Natalie Spooner, who had four goals and an assist. Sarah Nurse also had five points (3G, 2A) in the season series.

For Minnesota, first-overall draft pick Taylor Heise had an impressive showing against Toronto, putting up four points (2G, 2A). Her stat line was matched by captain Kendall Coyne Schofield. Sophie Jaques, who found success after being traded from Boston, had two goals in the meeting on February 27. Natalie Buchbinder also had two points in the series.

Nicole Hensley was Minnesota’s top choice in net, appearing in three of the four meetings and stopping 75 of 84 shots faced. Maddie Rooney had 19 saves on 22 shots in the final meeting, but I’d expect Minnesota to roll with Hensley to begin the series.

Vibe check Toronto

Toronto is riding the high of a four-game winning streak and has lost just once since the international break. After a break sputter that saw Toronto lose consecutive games for just the second time all season, the team quickly turned things around & clinched the top spot in the PWHL on May 1. Natalie Spooner & Sarah Nurse are both on four-game point streaks, while Emma Maltais has eight points in her last six games.

Kristen Campbell has been one of, if not the, best goaltender in the PWHL this season. She appeared in 22 regular season games – bested only by Ottawa’s Emerance Maschmeyer – and had a phenomenal 1.99 GAA. Only Montreal’s Elaine Chuli had a better GAA (1.61), but she also only appeared in eight games. Campbell led the league's goaltenders in wins by a wide margin and in save percentage, too, with a .949%.

Vibe check Minesota

It’s been less than great. Minnesota is winless in five straight since returning from the international break and had to rely on the misfortunes of Ottawa in order to get into the playoffs. After hearing coach Ken Klee and captain Kendall Coyne Schofield speak on Monday night, though, they seem ready to put the regular season in the rearview and take on the playoffs as essentially a new season.

Who to watch

Natalie Spooner is undoubtedly the best player in the PWHL right now. She led the league in points (27) and goals (20) in the regular season, her first 20-goal season since college. She's been playing some of the best hockey of her life, and she'll look to make an immediate impact in the series to get Toronto off on the right foot.

Sophie Jaques is my player to watch for Minnesota. She may be a defender, but she plays a well-rounded game and can make impact across the ice. After a tough start with Boston, her fortunes have completely turned around since being traded. She had 10 points (2G, 8A) in the last 15 games with Minnesota, averaging 0.67 points per game. However, she was held pointless in the last four games of the regular season, so she'll look to turn things around – and turn things around for her team, too.


Home ice has the potential to be a big factor in this series. The first two games at Coca-Cola Coliseum are nearly sold out (and likely will be by the time puck drop hits), and there's no doubt those fans will be loud and boisterous. If Toronto can feed off that energy and snag two wins to kick the series off, the team will be in a great position heading to Minnesota for game three.

My prediction: Toronto wins it in four.

Hidden stat?

Something for Minnesota to focus on: their power play. During the regular season as a whole, they scored on just five of 61 power play opportunities, with the second-worst power play in the league. Against Toronto, they went 0-for-9. The playoffs are undoubtedly going to be tight games, and a power play goal here or there can easily make the difference between a win and a loss – and a series win or loss. It certainly won't be an easy task, as they're facing the best penalty kill in the league (91.8%), but if they can find a way to beat it, it could really change their fortunes.


"The roadmap for our season was clear, and our goals were clear from the start. Obviously, we started the season on a bit of a losing streak, but our goals never changed & our mentality never changed, either. We were just really lucky that we had the right staff and the right players involved, who were willing to stick with it and grind it out, and that's exactly what we did. To go through an 11-game winning streak in the middle of the season, after starting off so poorly... was something that we were really proud of, and from that we were able to gain a lot of confidence... We still felt like we had so much to prove and so many areas that we could get better in, so despite going on such a great winning streak, we played every game & approached every game as if we had more and more to prove." – Toronto captain Blayre Turnbull

"The process started a long time ago, when we knew the rules and when we clinched first place. We started those discussions on the hypotheticals of that may be that we get to choose from. It was definitely not an easy decision; there's no easy opponent in this league. We looked at all different angles; we talked to our leadership group, we leaned on our athletes, what they're feeling and how they feel against all of these opponents that we've got to choose from. We obviously looked at analytics and numbers, how we matched up against these teams throughout the season. You also want to look at the recency of the teams and how they're doing at this time frame of the season, are they healthy? Are they banged up? Travel came into play, what does that look like? Where do we feel comfortable traveling to? All different angles that you have to look at from a program perspective. You weigh everything in the end." – Toronto GM Gina Kingsbury

"No matter what team we face, they're going to be a tough opponent. They've got two good goalies, depth in the net. They have some really good defensemen, and obviously we know how offensive their biggest threats are. Kendall [Coyne Schofield]'s extremely fast and she's been scoring a lot lately. Taylor Heise is such a natural goalscorer and offensive threat, too. They've got some star players who I'm sure are going to be really excited to face us." – Turnbull

"You have to look at the season as a whole. It's really easy to look at the last five games, to look at what didn't go well for us, but it's a been a long season and I think there was a pause in there, so it's sometimes hard to remember what happened before that pause and the international competition. We've put together some great hockey this year. I think the last five games definitely was not our best hockey. Moving forward, it's a new season. Everyone starts with a clean slate, every team, every player, and we look forward to going into Toronto with that clean slate." – Minnesota captain Kendall Coyne Schofield

"You look at how many tight games, how many overtime games... how many two-point games versus three-point games there were during the year. I would expect both our series and the Boston-Montreal series to be tight. It's just the nature of the beast, with the teams being so competitive and so balanced. We're expecting a close game, and we're going to have to make the big play at the right time. We know they have great players; they have arguably the MVP on their team, they have the number one goalie in the league on their team. They have a lot of horses, but we believe in our group and we're excited and know that we can challenge anybody on any night." – Minnesota head coach Ken Klee

"We had the opportunity to control our own destiny, and we weren't able to do that.. I think coming to the rink today, we were all filled with a lot of gratitude that we were coming to the rink to practice, to get ready for a five-game series and not do exit meetings. We look at it as a new season, an opportunity... it speaks to why all 24 games matter, and not just the last five." – Coyne Schofield


  • Game 1: Wednesday, May 8 @ 7:00 PM Eastern | Coca-Cola Coliseum, Toronto, Ontario
  • Game 2: Friday, May 10 @ 7:00 PM Eastern | Coca-Cola Coliseum, Toronto, Ontario
  • Game 3: Monday, May 13 @ 8:00 PM Eastern | Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Game 4: Wednesday, May 15 @ 8:00 PM Eastern | Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota *
  • Game 5: Friday, May 17 @ 7:00 PM Eastern| Coca-Cola Coliseum, Toronto, Ontario *

* Games 4 & 5 if necessary.

All games will air on TSN in Canada and Bally Sports North in the Minnesota local market, as well as on the PWHL's YouTube channel.

(Photo: Kelly Hagenson/PWHL)