PWHL Minnesota piles up points at home by shutting out Boston

With four consecutive home games this month, PWHL Minnesota hoped to bank some valuable points in pursuit of a playoff berth. At the midpoint of that stretch, it's collected five of six points possible.

Wednesday's 4-0 victory over Boston extended Minnesota's win streak to three games, including the first two in the homestand. Kendall Coyne Schofield, Michela Cava, Grace Zumwinkle and Taylor Heise provided the scoring, while goaltender Nicole Hensley earned her first shutout of the season. The win boosted Minnesota into a three-way tie atop the league standings with 30 points, matching Montreal and Toronto.

Coyne Schofield opened the scoring at 18 minutes, 12 seconds of the first period. Cava made it 2-0 at 6:43 of the second, and Zumwinkle added a power-play strike at 14:43 of the third before Heise's late empty-net goal.

Hensley stopped all 20 shots she faced as Minnesota shut out an opponent for the third time this season.

Wednesday's game led off the final third of Minnesota's 24-game schedule. The team started the day in third place, three points behind Toronto and Montreal and seven ahead of Boston. The top four teams in the standings will advance to the playoffs, and Boston's 20 points tied it with Ottawa for the final playoff berth.

"Our team is looking at this last stretch here as every game is do or die for us,'' said Boston forward Hannah Brandt, a former Gopher from Vadnais Heights. "Because if you look at the standings, it kind of is. We're looking to try to get on a roll.''

Boston entered the game hoping to control Minnesota's speed and prevent odd-man rushes. It worked early. Minnesota had not played in eight days, and its spotty puckhandling and passing kept it from generating much offense in the first five minutes.

While Boston outshot Minnesota early, it wasn't getting high-quality shots. Once Minnesota's top two lines found some room to operate, the team gained a 2-0 lead.

The first goal came courtesy of a well-timed pass from Heise. She controlled the puck in the right corner of the Boston zone, then threaded it between the skates of Boston defender Sidney Morin right to Coyne Schofield. Alone in front of the net, Coyne Schofield beat goalie Aerin Frankel with 1:43 left in the first period.

That was a good omen. Boston had won all five games in which it had scored first, while Minnesota had taken seven of eight when it got the first goal.

Minnesota scored its second thanks to Cava's quick hands. When a Sophie Jaques shot from the right point banged off the end boards, Cava scooped up the puck and banked it off Frankel from behind the goal line, doubling Minnesota's lead early in the second period.

At 13:56 of the third, on Minnesota's second power play of the game, Zumwinkle hammered a one-timer past Frankel.