PWHL Semifinals - Game 1: Minnesota 0, Toronto 4
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PWHL Semifinals - Game 1: Minnesota 0, Toronto 4

PWHL Semifinals - Game 1: Minnesota 0, Toronto 4 by Melissa Burgess

Via a decisive 4-0 victory on Wednesday night, PWHL Toronto took the lead in its semifinal series against Minnesota. Natalie Spooner had two goals, and Kristen Campbell shut the door with 26 saves.

What happened?

Despite some travel issues in a tight timeframe to get to Toronto, Minnesota certainly didn't look jet-lagged or tired at all to start the game. They may not have been able to practice in Toronto before game one, but both teams seemed to start off the game on solid ground. Each side had chances early on, but Toronto did a good job of blocking Minnesota's shots and keeping it scoreless.

Spooner, the league's leading scorer in the regular season, made it 1-0 near the midway point of the first period. After a turnover in the neutral zone, Allie Munroe got the puck up to Hannah Miller. Miller sent it over to Spooner, who ripped a shot just inside the far post, beating Nicole Hensley.

The goal seemed to be the necessary spark to light Toronto's fire, as they followed with a handful of good chances. Minnesota did their best defensively, including a nice play by Mellissa Channell to push Spooner off the puck amid a breakaway opportunity. Eventually, Minnesota started to gain some momentum, but Toronto remained incredibly skilled at clogging up the lanes and getting in front of shots.

The intermission could've given Minnesota a chance to regroup, but Toronto instead came out strong and went up 2-0 less than a minute into the second period. Emma Maltais picked up a pass from Sarah Nurse, walked in from the wing and slid the puck under Hensley as she cut across in front of the net.

Each team had a power play opportunity in the second period – one after the other – but neither could capitalize. Minnesota did a good job of shutting down Toronto's power play units, allowing just one shot against and finding their own shorthanded chance. Toronto's league-best penalty kill had no problem shutting down Minnesota's units.

Before the period ended, captain Blayre Turnbull scored her first of the night to make it 3-0. She and Spooner brought the puck up the ice, and she passed it over to Spooner. As they got closer to the net, Spooner's pass attempt bounced off Turnbull's skate and in. Minnesota held Toronto to just four shots in the second period, but two of them were goals.

Toronto remained their seemingly unbeatable selves in the third period. Minnesota had a few chances here and there, but they didn't seem to have the sustained effort or pressure to really get any momentum going. Turnbull potted her second of the game with 37.8 seconds left, capitalizing with a backhand on a rebound in front after the initial shot from Miller.

The 4-0 win gives Toronto a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series, which continues Friday, May 10 at 7:00 PM at Coca-Cola Coliseum.

Three up, three down

↑ Toronto looked like, well, Toronto – This looked like a first-place team coming into the series on a four-game winning streak. They didn't seem to really settle into the game too early – knowing that anything can happen at any time, especially in playoffs – and played strong defensively and offensively.

↓ Travel time – Minnesota had a super tight turnaround after finding out just Monday night that they'd be heading to Toronto. The Score's Kyle Cushman published several quotes/tidbits from players and head coach Ken Klee, but the gist of it is this: players were on one flight Tuesday, while coaches & equipment were on a later flight. This all meant that the team couldn't practice on Tuesday. The tight travel timeframe is partly due to the fact that it came down to the final game of the season to determine which of Minnesota & Ottawa would even make the playoffs, but perhaps the league needs to give an extra day of buffer in between next time. (Or, you know... charter flights?)

↑ A standing-room-only crowd – Seats at Coca-Cola Coliseum were sold out, and even some standing-room spots were sold for Wednesday's game. The announced attendance was 8,473 fans, a great crowd for the first PWHL playoff game. It also provided a look at what could be the Toronto team's new home rink for next season, as they've certainly outgrown Mattamy Athletic Centre.

↓ That was weird – All right, chalk it up to the broadcast but it was super weird hearing them ask Minnesota head coach Ken Klee how coaching this playoff game in Toronto compared to... him playing in a playoff game as a member of the Maple Leafs... 20 years ago. How is that all relevant? Kudos to Klee, who answered the question with grace and made his response about the players, not him.

↑ Jacques' defensive game – Minnesota's Sophie Jaques had a few great defensive shifts, including a huge one to keep the deficit at just three goals in the second period. According to the league's stats, she led her team in ice time (23:22) while playing largely alongside Mellissa Channell on the top pairing.

↓ No Brodt – Sydney Brodt did not see the ice at all on Wednesday for Minnesota, though she was listed as the 13th forward in the lineup. She had one assist in seven regular season games after being activated off LTIR; she had previously been injured during the preseason.

VP's Player of the Game

Hannah Miller – Miller is an underrated piece to have as part of your forward core. She's not as recognizable a name as, say, Spooner or Nurse or even Maltais, but she's a great playmaker. Miller had two assists and one shot and finished the game a plus-3. She also had a team-high five hits.

  • Game replay link (YouTube) – The PWHL has started posting "condensed game archive" video, after taking their videos private after broadcast as of late. Check their video uploads page for the game archive content as it becomes available. (This game is not yet as of press time.)
  • Game data

(Photo: Christian Bender/PWHL)