PWHL: Minnesota has momentum for decisive Game 5 in Toronto (2024)

After being shut out in the first two games of its Professional Women’s Hockey League semifinal playoff series in Toronto, the sad refrain of “You can’t win if you can’t score” was being tossed around Xcel Energy Center prior to Game 3.

Two wins —and two shutouts —later, Minnesota’s spirits and its chances of pulling off the series upset have been lifted by the fact that you can’t lose if you don’t give up a goal.

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Goaltender Maddie Rooney, whose postseason goals-against average stands at 0.29, has emerged as the face of the turnaround that has set up a deciding Game 5 Friday night in Toronto. But Rooney is the first one to acknowledge that she’s gotten a lot of help.

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Team defense and timely goal scoring has been Minnesota’s successful combination, and if it can pull it off one more time, a meeting with Boston in the PWHL championship series will be the reward.

The home team has won each of the four games in the series, with Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell earning shutouts in the first two games. But Minnesota is buoyed by the fact that it played well enough to win in Game 2, which was scoreless until the final two minutes.

“Once we got into that Game 2, we had the discussion that we had to be comfortable winning 1-0,” Minnesota coach Ken Klee said. “Because we have good goaltending, they play the right way and we play the right way.

“It’s going to be tight. That’s the way playoff hockey is.”

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Home-ice advantage could prove to be the X factor, but along with Rooney’s heroics, Minnesota can call on an offense that looks to be a bit more dangerous than Toronto’s at this point.

While Minnesota’s top line of Taylor Heise, Grace Zumwinkle and Abby Boreen didn’t produce any points in Game 4, it was responsible for 11 of Minnesota’s 29 shots on goal — a number of them quality scoring chances.

“I thought their line was outstanding,” Klee said. “I thought it was Taylor Heise’s best game — by far — that she’s had in the playoffs. Zum was good, and Abby Boreen is that energy ball for us. She’s mixing things up and helping her linemates.”

But there remains the fact that Toronto has yet to surrender a goal at home in the series.

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“Campbell’s played well,” Klee said. “She’s been one of the top goalies in the league all year. Her confidence is high. It’s going to take a shot rebound or a screen to beat her. For us, we need shot volume, when it’s there — we don’t want to shoot into blocks. They sacrifice a lot, they block a lot of shots. They’re a winning team for a reason, they do a lot of little things well. We’ve just got to stay with it.”

Toronto will be without leading scorer Natalie Spooner for the second straight game after a knee injury in Game 3 ended her season.

“There’s no replacing Natalie Spooner,” Klee said. “She’s got 21 goals, she’s outstanding. But they’re a resilient team. They know if they play their system they will give themselves a chance to win. We expect another tight battle.”

Toronto coach Troy Ryan said his team talked about the need to find a way to score “dirty” goals, which would describe Butorac’s ability to pounce on a loose puck in the Toronto crease for the game winner on Wednesday.

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“In playoffs you probably work a little bit more to get those greasy kind of goals,” Ryan said. “There were a few opportunities (in Game 4) I think we could have buried a shoulder and widened out our stance and drove the puck.”

Toronto has been one of the most physical teams in the league all season, and this series has provided more of the same. With the Coca-Cola Center likely to be sold out, the home team figures to get the house rocking, as well.

“Our start is going to be really important,” Toronto forward Renata Fast said. “We need to be really on our toes at the start of the game. As soon as we were playing with that attack mentally (in Game 4) and we were getting pucks below their goal line, we were getting chances and hemming them in.”

Minnesota soon will find out if it has enough tenacity and grit come all the way back from an 0-2 hole.

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“We’re confident in how we’re playing right now,” Butorac said. “Game 2 was a good showpiece of how we can play on the road. I think (it’s) just taking the momentum from these last two games and bringing it up there, and just giving it all we can.”

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PWHL: Minnesota has momentum for decisive Game 5 in Toronto (2024)
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