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PWHL Boston’s season is on the brink after losing Game 3 to Minnesota in Walter Cup finals

Minnesota forward Taylor Heise (27) scores a goal against Boston during the first period of Game 3 of the PWHL's Walter Cup finals.Angelina Katsanis/Associated Press

During the late regular season and the opening round of the PWHL playoffs, PWHL Boston didn’t let an opponent’s early lead stifle its scoring touch. Comebacks became the team’s trademark, especially in the semifinals against Montreal.

But Tuesday night, in Game 2 of the PWHL Walter Cup Finals, Minnesota shut Boston out for the first time in the postseason. On Friday’s Game 3, Boston found itself in a deficit less than a minute into the game and because of a plethora of defensive breakdowns, couldn’t come back.

With Minnesota’s top line of Kendall Coyne Schofield, Taylor Heise, and Michela Cava combining for half of their team’s scoring, Minnesota defeated Boston, 4-1, Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series. Alina Müller scored Boston’s lone goal in a game in which its defense struggle mightily.


“A lot of our forechecks are broken,” said Boston captain Hilary Knight postgame. “Just having that disconnect really bit us tonight.”

Boston fell behind early to speedier Minnesota. A mere 59 seconds into the game, Heise notched her fifth goal in her last four playoff games. Off a pass from Cava, she shot to the right of Boston goaltender Aerin Frankel to put Minnesota up, 1-0.

Boston found itself on the power play 7:41 into the first period, but Minnesota goaltender Nicole Hensley was masterful, blocking a Hilary Knight shot. Hensley made another three saves during the penalty kill and had excellent control of her rebounds. Another Knight shot deflected off the right post near the end of the player advantage.

Boston created a few more opportunities after the power play, but it was also unsuccessful. Minnesota continued to play with much more urgency than Boston, and its tenaciousness led to a 2-0 lead. Boston defender Kaliegh Fratkin got tangled up with Minnesota’s Sydney Brodt in front of the net as Brittyn Fleming shot. Frankel made the save, but the rebound directed right toward Brodt, who shoveled the puck in, putting Minnesota up, 2-0, with 3:22 left in the first period.


Minnesota’s transition game was especially strong in the second period, and Heise played menacingly in the neutral zone, breaking up several Boston passes. But the visitors had a much better answer for Minnesota’s speed, and a calmed-down Frankel made 11 saves in the frame.

Nearing the end of the second, Boston seemed on the verge of breaking through. With three minutes left, Müller and Megan Keller saw their shots blocked. The puck went back into the Boston zone, where Frankel stopped a Denisa Křížová shot. Boston moved the puck back into the Minnesota zone, where Jamie Lee Rattray’s shot was denied by Hensley.

With the period quickly coming to an end, Rattray was by the boards and flung the puck to Susanna Tapani. She passed the puck back to Müller, who was skating toward the net. With Hensley positioned slightly out of the net, Müller shot on the empty side of the net to get Boston finally on the scoreboard with 1.4 seconds remaining before the second intermission.

“I think going into the third, it gave the team some life,” said Keller.

Müller opened the third period with another shot on Hensley, but this time she saved it. Boston had another three shots blocked by Minnesota’s defense before Minnesota raced back into Boston’s zone. Heise found the puck on her stick again and passed it to Cava, who weaved in front and lifted the puck over a sprawling Frankel’s right skate and into the net to give Minnesota a 3-1 lead.


“Clearly she put two defenders in a blender on that move,” said Heise of Cava’s goal.

With a little over five minutes remaining, Minnesota’s Claire Butorac tripped Boston defender Megan Keller, giving Boston a power play. Boston coach Courtney Kessel decided to pull Frankel to make it a six-on-four, but the decision backfired. Minnesota’s Grace Zumwinkle jumped on a loose puck near the blue line and broke free toward the open Boston net with Keller and Knight trailing close behind. Zumwinkle sent the puck in for the empty-netter and then slid into the net herself, sealing Minnesota’s 4-1 victory.

Frankel led the way with 21 saves on the evening, while Hensley made 18.

Boston has now lost two games in a row for the first time since before the league’s three-week World Championships break in April. In order to keep its quest for the first-ever PWHL Championship alive, it will need to interrupt Minnesota’s momentum Sunday.

“We know what it’s like to fight back and we’re going to continue to fight,” said Kessel.