PWHL Finals Preview: Minnesota vs. Boston
- 10 min read

PWHL Finals Preview: Minnesota vs. Boston

PWHL Finals Preview: Minnesota vs. Boston by Zoë Hayden

A three-game sweep, with each win coming in overtime. A reverse sweep of the best regular-season team in the league, who picked them as their opponent. #3 Boston and #4 Minnesota took very different routes to the PWHL Finals, but each came into their semifinal series as an underdog and stunned their higher-ranked opponent. Now, they each have the opportunity to ride that energy and become the first team to win the Walter Cup.


In the regular season, these two teams met 5 times. Boston narrowly took the season series 3 games to 2.

These two teams also featured in the first trade in PWHL history, with Boston GM Danielle Marmer sending Sophie Jaques to Minnesota's Natalie Darwitz in exchange for Susanna Tapani and Abby Cook. Jaques and Tapani in particular have flourished with their new teams and have been a huge part of each side's playoff success so far.

What happened?

It was a mixed bag between these two clubs in the regular season, and it may not mean much anymore headed into a championship series, but there are a few threads here to pull at.

Boston's 2-0 victory over Minnesota in February was the first time Aerin Frankel really stood on her head to steal a game in the PWHL. Boston fell into a hard slump after that (including a 4-0 beat-down by Minnesota on March 13). They didn't really recover until after the World Championship break, where they famously took points in five straight games to edge into the playoffs. But that look at Frankel in lockdown mode now seems prescient.

Hannah Brandt's dramatic regulation buzzer-beater on April 27 was one of the key plays that kept Boston in the playoff hunt – and put Minnesota in a situation where they were nearly eliminated altogether from postseason contention.

From the Minnesota side, they limped into the postseason and Boston's late-game heroics were a huge part of that. Still, they needed all of the four points they took from Boston to make the postseason. And they seem like a completely different team now after sending Toronto packing.

Both squads got scoring from their rookie forwards to lead the way during the regular season. Grace Zumwinkle is still waiting for her first playoff point, but she had 3 goals and an assist against Boston on the year. On the Boston side, Alina Müller had 2 goals and 2 assists against Minnesota, and has 1 playoff assist heading into the championship series.

Aerin Frankel and Maddie Rooney did not square off in net against each other in the regular season but are certainly the presumptive starters in the Finals.

These two teams know each other well, but they have each been transformed by their semifinals victories. Boston hasn't lost a game since April 24 (a shootout loss to Ottawa). They haven't lost in regulation since March 25. Minnesota fell as hard as it was possible for them to fall after the international break, losing seven straight games between the regular season and the first round. But they didn't let Toronto land the coup de grâce and came away with the series win. They both head into the PWHL Finals battle-tested and with a ton of confidence.

Vibe check Boston

Boston had a few long nights en route to the PWHL Finals. They won three straight overtime games, but will have had four days for recovery, practice, and re-grouping since winning against Montreal on May 14. They'll be heading into a series where they unexpectedly have home-ice advantage and a ton of momentum.

Aside from the lights-out play of Aerin Frankel, who has stopped 141 of 145 shots so far in the playoffs, Boston has gotten several huge playoff performances to put them three wins away from the Walter Cup. Amanda Pelkey leads the playoffs in scoring with 2 goals and 1 assist, rating a +3 with a 33.3% shooting percentage on 6 shots. In other words, Boston's fourth line has been getting it done when they are on the ice and Pelkey's finishing ability has been a huge part of that.

Their other big offensive performer has been Susanna Tapani, acquired from Minnesota via trade back in March. Tapani had two overtime game-winners in the semifinals.

Defensively, Boston has been getting shutdown performances from throughout their blueline corps, but Jessica Digirolamo has been perhaps their best. She doesn't draw the same attention that Megan Keller does, which has allowed her to fly under the radar at times, and she completely shut down Montreal's offensive firepower when it mattered most. The thing is, every d-pair on the ice for Boston has shown that they can be a shutdown pair in the playoffs.

Opportunistic offense and shutdown defense – this is the team we expected when Danielle Marmer finished constructing this roster back in December, and with some key additions via trade in Tapani and Lexie Adzija, this team has become very deep and tough to beat. Montreal found that out the hard way.

Vibe check Minnesota

Speaking of momentum, though, you simply can't sleep on Minnesota anymore. Toronto did, and it cost them.

Minnesota went down 2-0 to Toronto in the semifinals after closing out their regular season on a five-game losing streak. "Toronto in 4" had been the safe prediction in this series, and that still had a chance of coming true after Minnesota took Game 3 on the strength of two second-period tallies. But Minnesota won Game 4 in double overtime, getting the crucial tally from third-liner Claire Butorac. They then got their power play figured out in time to stun Toronto in Game 5. They capitalized twice on the advantage, including a shot ripped by Taylor Heise that beat Kristen Campbell cleanly through traffic. It was Heise's first of the playoffs and stood as the game-winner.

Arguably, you can put this result on Toronto. After Game 2, they were just one win away – and in Game 4, just one goal away – from advancing. After Toronto lost Natalie Spooner in the third period of Game 3, they scored just one goal in eight periods of playoff hockey. Minnesota rose to the occasion to grind out the offense they needed, and they sent the best regular-season team in the PWHL home for the summer.

The obvious key to their turnaround has been Maddie Rooney. She has allowed just 0.455 goals against per 60 since taking over the net from Nicole Hensley in Game 2, and she's hoping to take them the rest of the way.

On offense, Minnesota got two goals from Denisa Křížová, who had just 3 on the entire regular season in 24 games played. Both times that she scored in the Toronto series, she did so by driving the net and finding a rebound. She could well equal her regular season total in the playoffs if Frankel leaves her anything to find.

A lineup caveat: Minnesota will be without the services of Abigail Boreen, who is ineligible to play in the Finals after signing her playoff SPA in the semis. She had one assist – a helper on an empty-net goal by Sophia Kunin in Game 5. Despite not figuring much into the scoresheet, Boreen is a big loss for Minnesota as a top-six winger who can finish around the net.

It was a long wait and a lot of work for Minnesota to become more like the team they were before the World Championship break. Now they're fresh off completing a reverse sweep on the road, and are poised to play their best hockey.


This is always such an opportunity to look silly later. I don't think anyone got it right about Boston in 3 or Minnesota in 5.

Despite the differences in how they got here, I think both teams are playing a similar style that is opportunistic and thrives on using defense to create transition. The games will be won and lost based on details, and as details go, they feel incredibly evenly matched. It's deliciously unpredictable. I do think this championship series goes to five games – but it's really anybody's series and I wouldn't be surprised by any outcome or any number of games (or periods) at this rate.

As to who wins that fifth game... PWHL Boston closed out their series at home, and Minnesota triumphed on the road with 8,501 fans rooting against them in Toronto. Boston has home ice advantage in a Game 5, and I think they're going to be tougher to beat in that situation than Toronto was for Minnesota. Boston in 5?

Hidden stat?

Both Maddie Rooney and Aerin Frankel are small goalies at just 5'5", but they've proven to be the best in the inaugural PWHL playoffs. Like the teams in front of them, each of them has been dominant in a different way, but the result is the same: a trip to the PWHL Finals.

Frankel has been athletic and surprising, pulling off huge stops when she has seemingly lost her net or found herself out of position. Through three playoff contests and 246:30 in net (equivalent to more than four regulation hockey games), Frankel faced, on average, 48.3 shots against per outing, many of them high-danger.

Rooney hasn't needed to be quite as good, facing just 23.5 shots per game so far in the playoffs. Toronto's offense never really went into desperation mode against Minnesota, and she didn't make mistakes for them to capitalize on, either. She made all the necessary stops – including two shutouts – to help her team climb the ladder and make it to the championship series.

These playoffs have been low-scoring on the whole. Spectacular goaltending being a difference-maker is hardly a surprise, but it is perhaps a surprise that it put these two teams specifically into the Finals. How Frankel and Rooney come into this new series will be something to watch. Does Frankel have the advantage having faced more shots? Does Rooney have the advantage coming in hot with less downtime?

Both teams have gotten to this point by playing from the net out and turning shutdown work at one end into offense at the other. How that plays out in this series might come down to who blinks first.


"I think it just takes time to grow a team, a family... You know, you have 26 women trying to get to know each other, and it takes time. I think from September to now, we're a different team. We're different people. But we're so, so much closer. And I think when you look at this leadership group we have here, I think it's inevitable that we were going to create a culture where everyone feels valued and loved. To have fun, really, at the end of the day is the biggest thing, and I think we're having lots of fun here in Boston. And winning helps a little bit." – Boston head coach Courtney Kessel on her team coming together late in the season and making the Finals

"Susanna is just such a complete hockey player, 200-foot, we can count on her and rely on her. And you know, whether it's PK or power play. Thankful that she's got us a couple of points here heading into the finals. With that trade, it just gave us a little bit more depth up front that we were looking for. Down the stretch here, we've seen that it's been quite successful." – Kessel on forward Susanna Tapani

"She's been lights out all year. And I think that's just a testament to who she is, how competitive she is. It doesn't matter if it's a Finals game, a first game, or a game in the middle of the season. She's always gonna compete her ass off... we're lucky to have her back there. I think playing in front of her, it makes everybody feel super confident, knowing that she's behind us. And she's been great all season long." – Boston D and alternate captain Megan Keller on goaltender Aerin Frankel

"I think our group never lost faith. I think it's easy to to lose faith when things aren't going well. But the energy in the room the energy at practice was was never lost based on the results we had towards the end of the season. And so I think we we all know what we're capable of, as as individuals and collectives. And I think we prove that this series. There may have been some fans in Minnesota that that lost a little bit of faith, but we have no doubt that the State of Hockey will show up when we get back to Minnesota. They've been the greatest fans this year. It was tough. We were away, there was the the World Championships pause. We had a big home stretch in March, and then we basically had one [home] game before the playoff series. So I know it was tough. They didn't really get to see us too much. But we've earned the opportunity for them to be able to see us again and we know they'll show up when we get back there." – Minnesota forward and captain Kendall Coyne Schofield on bouncing back after their tough ending to the regular season, and on getting back to home ice in Minnesota in the Finals

"Tap was a great player. We were sad to see her go. But Sophie Jaques, she's an awesome, awesome young player. Incredibly talented, and I just think we were looking for that sort of offensive defenseman. And she just has something special. She has that knack, that gift. And it's been really fun to see her continue to grow. And she made an impact right away. But she's someone we rely on both defensively on offensively." – Minnesota D and alternate captain Lee Stecklein on defender Sophie Jaques

"It's a physical game. I would say Toronto is arguably one of the most physical teams in the league. And I thought our players did a great job of matching that physicality and giving it back as much as we had to take it. It was good, and we expect the physical series from Boston as well. We played them multiple times, had some overtime games with them, tight games. We expect another really good, tight series." – Minnesota head coach Ken Klee


  • Game 1: Sunday, May 19 @ 5:00 PM Eastern | Tsongas Center, Lowell, Massachusetts
  • Game 2: Tuesday, May 21 @ 7:00 PM Eastern | Tsongas Center, Lowell, Massachusetts
  • Game 3: Friday, May 24 @ 7:00 PM Eastern | Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Game 4: Sunday, May 26 @ 6:00 PM Eastern | Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota *
  • Game 5: Wednesday, May 29 @ 7:00 PM Eastern | Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota *

* Games 4 & 5 if necessary.

All games will stream on the PWHL's YouTube channel and the Women's Sports Network. Games in the series that don't conflict with live Red Sox broadcasts should appear on NESN in New England (and on NESN 360 streaming if they do). In the Minnesota market, games should air on either Bally Sports North or Bally Sports North Extra. In Canada, the series will be on TSN, with French-language broadcasts on RDS.

(Photo: Kelly Hagenson/PWHL)