PWHL Semifinals - Game 5: Minnesota 4, Toronto 1 (Minnesota Wins Series, 3-2)
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PWHL Semifinals - Game 5: Minnesota 4, Toronto 1 (Minnesota Wins Series, 3-2)

PWHL Semifinals - Game 5: Minnesota 4, Toronto 1 (Minnesota Wins Series, 3-2) by Melissa Burgess

PWHL Minnesota completed its reverse sweep on Friday night with a 4-1 win over Toronto in game five of the semifinal series. With the win, Minnesota will face Boston in the Walter Cup Finals, which begin Sunday.

What happened?

On one hand, Minnesota certainly had the upper hand going into Friday's game. Coming off two shutout wins at home, they were undoubtedly fueled with passion and energy looking to complete the series on a high note. On the other hand, Toronto had home ice advantage and a solid group of fans backing them. The home team had also won each of the previous four games in the series, but that all ended in game five.

As you would expect in an elimination scenario, Toronto looked good to start the game, as did Minnesota. A scoreless first period saw the home team up 13-7 in shots on goal. As the second period got underway, Toronto seemed to get hungrier for a goal, out-shooting Minnesota 8-0 just five minutes in.

Minnesota flipped the switch, however, with a power-play goal at 7:29. Kristen Campbell got a piece of Kelly Pannek's initial shot, but the puck went behind her and came off the post and out to Denisa Křížová in the slot. Campbell was out of position at that point, leaving Křížová to capitalize on a wide open net.

Toronto responded quickly, just 38 seconds later. Victoria Bach and Rebecca Leslie combined on a 2-on-1 chance, with Bach sending a nifty pass over to Leslie as she drove to the net. Still, Minnesota seemed energized and out-shot Toronto 12-3 in the last 15 minutes of the period.

Taylor Heise, Minnesota's first-overall draft pick in 2023, broke the stalemate with another power play goal at 8:30 of the third period. Heise's shot from the point sailed through a crowd before beating Campbell over her left shoulder. That goal put Minnesota up 2-1 and gave the team the final push it needed.

Minnesota added two empty-netters, from Sophia Kunin and Heise, to seal the win. Toronto was held to just four shots on goal in the third period. Lee Stecklein, Sophie Jaques and Kendall Coyne Schofield each had two assists, while Maddie Rooney stopped 27 of 28 shots faced. Rooney stopped 92 of 94 shots in the series, while Campbell stopped 126 of 131.

The Walter Cup Final between Minnesota and Boston begins Sunday, May 19 at 5:00 PM Eastern. The series will begin on Boston's home ice at Tsongas Center in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Three up, three down

↑ Minnesota's power play – Look at Minnesota, finally figuring it out on the power play! They came into this game on an 0-for-26 streak on the advantage that dated back to April 18. That, combined with Toronto's league-best penalty kill, meant it wasn't going to be easy. Minnesota went 2-for-3 on the power play and it made the difference.

↓ Toronto's effort late – After out-shooting Minnesota 8-0 in the first five minutes of the second period, Toronto really struggled to get shots on net in the final 35 minutes of the game. A lot of work along the boards meant Toronto got just seven shots on goal in the final 35 minutes, including four in the third period.

↑ Goals! – After each of the first four games in the series ended in shutouts, it was nice to see some goals in this one. After a scoreless first period, I was beginning to wonder if Friday's game was going to resemble game four of the series, which ended in a 1-0 overtime result.

↓ Truly, a new season – They say that playoffs are like a new season, and it's never been more evident. The top two seeds are out; one of them (Montreal) was even swept. Playoff hockey is entirely unpredictable, and that's part of what makes it so exciting. At least, unless you're a Toronto or Montreal fan right now... this isn't the kind of excitement you were hoping for.

↑ The Toronto fans – Toronto's fans were loud all season, and Friday night was no exception. The 8,501 fans in attendance were chanting "Let's go, T-O" all night long. Even at the end, when it became pretty clear that Minnesota was going to win, the fans were on their feet, cheering and waving their rally towels. It's great to see this level of support for women's hockey.

↓ A complete collapse – This was Toronto's series to lose, in so many ways. They were the best team for most of the season after a rough start, scoring the most and allowing the fewest goals against. They chose Minnesota as their opponent, the fourth-overall seed on a seemingly intractable losing streak, and proceeded to record shutouts in the first two games. Squandering a 2-0 series lead on two shutouts, to lose the series in five games and get shut out twice? That's a tough pill to swallow, for sure. Losing Natalie Spooner to injury was certainly unfortunate, and the fact that the rest of their lineup couldn't come together to get that last win in the series highlights just how essential Spooner was to Toronto's team success.

VP's Player of the Game

Kelly Pannek – Pannek had a team-high five shots on goal and notched a primary assist on Denisa Křížová's opening goal. She played 20:14 and also had two hits while centering Minnesota's second line alongside Kendall Coyne Schofield and Michela Cava.

  • 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: Alex D'Addese/PWHL)