PWHL Minnesota beats Boston in Game 3 of Walter Cup finals to take 2-1 lead

All throughout the PWHL season, the crowds at Xcel Energy Center have roared whenever Taylor Heise touches the puck. The PWHL Minnesota forward showed why on Friday, when her snipe from the slot put Boston in a 1-0 hole only 59 seconds into Game 3 of the Walter Cup finals.

But don't sleep on Heise's linemates. With Minnesota clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period, winger Michela Cava took a Heise pass to the net, put it past Boston goalie Aerin Frankel and propelled her team to the brink of a championship. With a 4-1 victory, Minnesota took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series and can raise the first Walter Cup with a win Sunday in Game 4 at Xcel.

After Heise's early goal, Sydney Brodt scored on a rebound at 17:38 of the first. That 2-0 lead held up until Boston's Alina Muller ended the shutout with 1.4 seconds left in the second period. Her goal halted a shutout streak of 122:33 for Minnesota and was Boston's first goal since the second period of Game 1.

Cava's goal at 3:29 of the third put Minnesota up 3-1, and Grace Zumwinkle added an empty-net goal at 16:10. Minnesota goaltender Nicole Hensley stopped 18 shots as her team outshot Boston 25-19.

On a night when basketball reigned across the river, a crowd announced at 9,054 filled the lower bowl at Xcel to soak up the Twin Cities' other playoff run. They gave as good as they got, whirling white towels and creating a ruckus that helped Minnesota to a 3-0 playoff record at home. The win was its seventh in its past eight games at Xcel.

As expected, the first two games had been a contest between Minnesota's speed and Boston's muscle. They largely canceled each other out as the teams split.

Friday, Minnesota fed off the energy of the amped-up crowd. Swift and sharp right from the start, the team took less than a minute to score, as Heise's line struck again.

After a dump-in to the right corner of Boston's zone, Cava and Boston's Kaleigh Fratkin chased the puck behind the net. Cava won possession and slung it into the slot, where Heise snagged it and wired a shot past Frankel.

Boston didn't get a shot on goal until 5:08, but it got a sterling opportunity when Minnesota's Emma Greco was penalized for interference at 7:41. Though Boston's power play entered the game 0-for-10, it snapped off two quick shots in its first chance Friday—and nearly scored on the third. Megan Keller's shot from the right circle hit a teammate and soared toward the net, but it struck the crossbar.

Minnesota doubled its lead at 17:38 of the first period on a well-timed play. Brittyn Fleming carried the puck into the left circle, waited for space to open up and skated behind the net for a wraparound chance at the right post. The puck slid to the top of the crease, where Brodt stuffed it past Frankel for her first goal of the season and a 2-0 lead.

While Minnesota's offense was flying, its defense lent Hensley solid support. Her teammates blocked seven shots in the first two periods, swept away rebounds and prevented Boston from establishing position in front of the net. Minnesota also neutralized Boston's physicality, outhitting it 7-6 through 40 minutes.

The shutout ended with less than two seconds left in the second period. Boston's Jamie Lee Rattray started a bang-bang play from the left boards, passing to Susanna Tapani in the left circle. With Hensley set up on that side, Tapani sent a perfect backhand pass to a charging Muller on the right, and she shot into the open side of the net.

Cava scored on a pass from Heise at the blue line. She skated into the Boston zone, and when two Boston defenders fell, Cava skated from right to left across the slot and beat Frankel. Zumwinkle's empty-netter came with Boston on a power play.