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Toronto eliminated from PWHL playoffs after surrendering 2-0 series lead to Minnesota | CBC Sports



Blayre Turnbull had a lot going through her mind as the seconds drained away on Toronto’s inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League season.

There was plenty to be proud of as 8,501 towel-waving fans bid farewell to a team and circuit that didn’t exist a year ago.

The overwhelming feeling, however, was still a bitter one.

Taylor Heise scored twice, including the winner in the third period, as Minnesota downed Toronto 4-1 on Friday, roaring back from a 2-0 series deficit to take the best-of-five PWHL semifinal 3-2.

“The loss definitely stings,” said Turnbull, Toronto’s captain and a member of the Canadian national team. “But I think all in all when we take a few minutes to reflect on the season and what we were able to accomplish as a team and as a league, it’s pretty incredible.”

WATCH | Minnesota eliminates Toronto, advances to Walter Cup final:

Minnesota beats Toronto in Game 5, advances to inaugural PWHL championship

Minnesota defeats Toronto 4-1 to win their best-of-five semifinal playoff series 3-2. Minnesota will face Boston in the PWHL’s inaugural Walter Cup final.

Denisa Krizova and Sophia Kunin also found the back of the net for Minnesota, which allowed just one goal over the final three games, including Wednesday’s 1-0 double-overtime victory facing elimination. Maddie Rooney stopped 27 shots Friday.

“Really special feeling,” said Heise, whose team scored the only two power-play goals of the series in Game 5. “We have so much more to give.”

Minnesota will take on Boston, which swept Montreal, in the six-team PWHL’s Walter Cup final. That best-of-five matchup opens Sunday.

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, after she suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 3.

“It’s disappointing,” said Toronto defender Renata Fast, another member of the Canadian team. “It’s hard to even understand what this year was. It was incredible.

“Stings a lot right now, but this has been a phenomenal year.”

WATCH | Spooner suffers season-ending injury in Game 3 against Minnesota:

Natalie Spooner leaves game with lower-body injury

PWHL Toronto’s Natalie Spooner left the game with a lower-body injury in the third period of game three against Minnesota Monday night.

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 team defender Jocelyne Larocque was penalized for hooking.

“We’re gonna relish in the fact that we came out and we kicked some ass,” Heise said.

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.

“A difficult thing for any team to handle,” Toronto head coach Troy Ryan said of losing Spooner. “But I still don’t think that’s the reason we lost.

“We’ve just gotta find a way to score in those big moments.”

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 to force Game 5.

“These guys have believed in each other,” Minnesota head coach Ken Klee said. “I thought Game 2 was a big change for us. We played the right way, stayed on top of pucks.”

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 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 frenzy.

It would be the team’s final goal of its curtain-raising campaign.

“The league is gonna get so much better year after year,” Turnbull said. “You think 20 years from now when we can look back to these moments and everything that we did.

“It’s going to be an incredible feeling.”

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