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Toronto eliminated from PWHL playoffs

Minnesota's Claire Butorac (7) and Lee Stecklein (2) battle for the puck with Toronto's Emma Maltais (27) during first period Game 5 playoff PWHL action in Toronto, Friday, May 17, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch Minnesota's Claire Butorac (7) and Lee Stecklein (2) battle for the puck with Toronto's Emma Maltais (27) during first period Game 5 playoff PWHL action in Toronto, Friday, May 17, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
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Taylor Heise scored twice, including the winner in the third period, as Minnesota downed Toronto 4-1 on Friday to win a best-of-five Professional Women's Hockey League semifinal 3-2.

Denisa Krizova and Sophia Kunin had the other goals for Minnesota, which fell behind 2-0 in the series before winning three straight, including Wednesday's 1-0 double-overtime victory. Maddie Rooney stopped 27 shots.

Minnesota will take on Boston in the six-team PWHL's inaugural Walter Cup final. The best-of-five Walter Cup final opens Sunday in Boston.

Rebecca Leslie replied for Toronto, which finished first in the standings, 12 points clear of Minnesota. Kristen Campbell made 27 saves.

Toronto was minus veteran star forward Natalie Spooner, who led the league in both goals and points in the regular season, after she suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 3.

Boston swept Montreal 3-0 in the other semifinal.

The top pick in September's first-ever PWHL draft — which was held in Toronto — Heise snapped the winner past Campbell's glove on a power play at 8:30 of the third after Canadian national team defender Jocelyne Larocque was penalized for hooking.

Toronto tried to press as the clock ticked down, but never really threatened Rooney, who replaced Nicole Hensley after Game 1, minus its offensive dynamo before Kunin iced it into the empty net with 1:12 left.

Heise added her second into the open cage with 14.6 seconds remaining.

Playing in a city used to playoff hockey heartache, Toronto opened the series with 4-0 and 2-0 victories on home ice before Minnesota returned the favour with a 2-0 triumph and that extra-time decision.

Toronto, which picked its semifinal opponent under the PWHL's forward-thinking playoff format, got Friday's first power play — and seven of the first eight shots — but Minnesota came closest to scoring when Grace Zumwinkle's effort that leaked through Campbell was cleared to safety by defender Allie Munroe.

The visitors went ahead on their first power play at 7:29 of the second when Kelly Pannek's initial shot beat Campbell five-hole and hit the post before the puck bounced in front for Krizova to bury her second of the series.

Without a goal since late in Game 2, Toronto finally broke through on Rooney just 38 seconds later when Leslie took a pass from Victoria Bach and fired her first to send a packed Coca-Cola Coliseum — home of the American Hockey League's Marlies on the Exhibition Place grounds — into a towel-waving frenzy.

SPOONER OUT

The 33-year-old Toronto native was placed on long-term injured reserve after she was checked into the boards by Zumwinkle in Game 3. Spooner led the PWHL with 27 points in 24 regular-season contests. Her league-topping 20 goals were nine more than the next closest skater.

FAMILIAR SURROUNDINGS

Minnesota head coach Ken Klee suited up for more than 900 NHL games with seven teams, including parts of two seasons with the Maple Leafs. The former defenceman played a winner-take-all Game 7 in Toronto some 20 years ago when the Leafs topped the Ottawa Senators 4-1.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2024.

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