Turnbull, Toronto cruise past Minnesota in first-ever PWHL playoff game

Toronto's Blayre Turnbull celebrates after scoring against Minnesota during third period PWHL playoff hockey action in Toronto, on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto head coach Troy Ryan felt his team met its own expectations in its biggest game of the season to date.

Blayre Turnbull scored twice to lead Toronto to a 4-0 win over Minnesota in the first-ever Professional Women’s Hockey League playoff game on Wednesday. Toronto played in front of 8,473 fans at Coca-Cola Coliseum, the team’s new home for the playoffs after spending the regular season at Mattamy Athletic Centre.

“It’s what I believe I expect and I think what the group expects as well,” Ryan said. “Being everything we thought it would be, I think the atmosphere was incredible. I think our performance was pretty good and I think it’s a great stepping-stone for us to continue to build on for this series and hopefully moving forward.

“Definitely a good first Game 1.”

The hosts closed the regular season with four straight wins, including a 4-1 victory over Minnesota last Wednesday. 

Toronto went 2-1-0-1 against Minnesota in the regular season. Minnesota earned a 3-1 road victory on Jan. 10.

Turnbull said the performance was a result of the team preparing itself for playoff hockey during the regular season.

“The whole season we’ve been building and building, waiting to get into playoffs and trying to fine-tune our game every week and get better so that when the playoffs arrived, we were ready to go,” Turnbull said. “I think there’s still a few areas that we can keep improving on but overall, we’re pretty happy with where we’re at and we know that we can take it to a whole other level.

“We’re excited to get back on the ice for Game 2 but we’re really proud of our execution here in Game 1.”

Game 2 in the best-of-five semifinal is set for Friday in Toronto.

Natalie Spooner, with the opening goal and one assist, and Emma Maltais also scored for top-seeded Toronto. 

Kristen Campbell, who led the PWHL with three shutouts in the regular season and was second in goals-against average at 1.99, posted a 26-save shutout.

“I was seeing (pucks) really good out there,” Campbell said. “I thought our team did a great job helping me out when I needed it, blocking shots and clearing pucks. I just play one puck at a time, that’s been my motto this whole season.

“Just taking control of the game when I can and getting us whistles and staying calm back there.”

Nicole Hensley stopped 15 shots for fourth-seeded Minnesota. 

“We played a good game,” Minnesota head coach Ken Klee said. “We had a couple mental mistakes, individual mistakes and they capitalized. We look at the game as a whole, we got down and we were chasing and that’s the tough part.

“We haven’t given up rush goals I don’t think the entire year and I think we had three or four tonight … again, it’s something we can correct and we definitely will.”

Toronto got its first pair of decent scoring chances early in the opening period. Brittany Howard almost fired one in off a blocked Sarah Nurse shot and Alexa Vasko was stopped on a one-timer from the slot shortly after.

Spooner opened the scoring at 9:47 of the first period to the delight of the deafening home crowd. The PWHL scoring champion took a pass from Hannah Miller and fired a wrister into the top corner past Hensley’s glove.

Maltais made it 2-0 at the 55-second mark of the second period. Nurse drew the attention of two defenders approaching the slot and found a streaking Maltais who backhanded it between Hensley’s pads.

Turnbull got in on the action with 4:55 remaining in the middle frame. She took the puck up ice and sent it off to Spooner who dished it back and Turnbull tapped it in.

Minnesota had a 17-11 edge in shots after 40 minutes. 

Early in the third period, Spooner had a great chance in front to score her second goal of the game but was stopped by Hensley.

Turnbull netted her second of the contest with 37.8 seconds left in the game when she buried a rebound. 

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