PWHL Minnesota loses in two OTs after winning goal overturned

Before Game 4 of the Walter Cup finals, Kendall Coyne Schofield repeated an old sports adage. "The last one to win is the hardest one by far,'' the PWHL Minnesota forward said, acknowledging how challenging it would be to win the Cup and end Boston's season on Sunday.

PWHL Boston proved that truth again, defeating Minnesota 1-0 in double overtime at Xcel Energy Center to push the best-of-five series to the maximum. Alina Müller delivered the game-winner at 18 minutes, 36 seconds of the second extra period, ending a game overflowing with drama. While Minnesota could have raised the first Walter Cup with a victory, the series will return to Boston for the deciding Game 5 on Wednesday.

The winning goal was scored 70 seconds after a Minnesota goal was waved off. Taylor Heise passed to a charging Sophie Jaques, who beat Boston goalie Aerin Frankel. But Heise slid into Frankel after making the pass, and officials disallowed the goal for goaltender interference.

A revved-up crowd announced at 13,104 came ready to see a championship, but Boston delivered the fight it promised. Minnesota goaltender Nicole Hensley made 32 saves in a standout performance, bested only by Frankel's 33-save shutout.

Minnesota went 0-for-4 on the power play, while its penalty kill remained perfect in the playoffs. It held Boston without a goal on three power-play chances to push its streak to 19-for-19.

Minnesotans showed up and showed out for Game 4. Girls crowded around the glass during pregame warmups, showing off handmade signs. A chant of "We want the Cup!'' broke out even before the players were introduced.

Some fans came from farther away. Tennis legend Billie Jean King and her wife, Ilana Kloss, who were instrumental in founding the PWHL, lent some star power. A relative newcomer to puck fandom, King delivered the pregame "Let's Play Hockey'' cheer with the gusto of a lifer.

Minnesota's strategy in Game 4 was to continue playing a structurally sound game. Tight team defense limited Boston's shots in games 2 and 3, keeping quality chances especially low. Since losing 4-3 in Game 1, Minnesota had outscored Boston 7-1.

"We're ready,'' Minnesota coach Ken Klee said. "I couldn't be happier with the way we've played over the last week and the effort everyone has put in. We just need to play our game by being solid defensively and taking advantage of our scoring opportunities.''

Boston hoped to subdue Minnesota's speed with its physicality, but that approach was only intermittently effective in Game 1. Boston registered fewer hits as the series progressed, with only 10 in Game 3.

Neither team scored in an evenly played first period Sunday. Both had some near-misses, but both goaltenders stood tall, supported by defenses that blocked shots and prevented rebounds.

Minnesota came close to a goal when Lee Stecklein hit a goal post at 3:00 of the second period, and it got two power-play opportunities in a span of four minutes in the second period. Boston prevented it from cashing in. On a Boston power play late in the period, Minnesota's Grace Zumwinkle generated a shorthanded chance but came up empty.

The third period played out much the same way. Hensley and Frankel were both stellar, and while Minnesota tested Frankel on a pair of power plays, it could not get past her. At the end of regulation, Minnesota had 20 shots on goal, while Boston had 19.

Boston controlled the opening minutes of overtime, containing play in the Minnesota zone for long stretches. Minnesota gained the advantage near the midpoint. Sophie Jaques, Zumwinkle and Kendall Coyne Schofield all had grade-A chances, but Frankel remained impenetrable.

Minnesota neutralized another Boston power play late in the period as the game moved to a second overtime. After 80-plus minutes of hockey, it was still a fast-paced, high-energy game, with the teams again trading great scoring opportunities.