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Boston Is The Cruelest Team

Megan Keller #5 of Boston reacts to a collision with Grace Zumwinkle #13 of Minnesota
David Berding/Getty Images

In the playoff semifinals two weeks ago, PWHL Boston devastated a Montreal crowd when they outlasted the Quebecois in a triple-overtime win that delivered a commanding 2-0 series lead in a best-of-five they'd go on to sweep. On Sunday night, they discovered an even more diabolical way to depress an audience on the road, beating Minnesota 1-0 in double OT to stave off elimination in the Finals. But neither the final score nor the over-four-hour runtime can fully explain the torment inflicted upon the fans in Saint Paul that stayed to see this one through.

The inaugural PWHL season was a save haven for world-class goalies, and it's Aerin Frankel who carries that banner for Boston. But after shutting down Montreal's offense, she was outdueled by Minnesota's Nicole Hensley in Games 2 and 3 of the Finals. Boston scored four goals on Minnesota's other netminder, Maddie Rooney, in Game 1, but in the days that followed they got beat 3-0 and 4-1 to find themselves on the precipice. It took a 33-save shutout from Frankel to rescue them in Game 4, as she pulled the plug on four Minnesota power plays and stifled an attack that only seemed to get more dangerous as the sun went down. The enthusiastic crowd kept chanting "We want the Cup!" like kids in the backseat begging for fast food; Frankel was the parent with the nerves of steel who refused to get off the highway.

Nearly 100 minutes of hockey revealed just one way that Minnesota could force a shot past Frankel, and when they pulled off this trick toward the end of the second OT, it briefly appeared to catapult them into immortality. Taylor Heise drove the puck into the offensive zone and then banked a hard, hard right to try to get it to the net. She couldn't keep her balance in doing so, and she fell, sliding directly into Frankel as she sat in the crease. The puck glided to Sophie Jaques in the slot, and she fired what could have been the championship winner. The crowd went nuts. The players left the bench. The arena cued up Queen.

Unfortunately for them, you can't slide into an unsuspecting goalie and expect it to go unnoticed on replay review. After the initial ecstasy came a long, stomach-churning wait. A bit of contact from a Boston defender on the tumbling Heise gave fans a glimmer of hope that the video Gods might look the other way. But that juicy steak that Minnesota fans were eyeing in the middle of the desert turned out to be a tumbleweed.

We'd play on after the goal was overturned, but only briefly. I don't think Minnesota ever had a chance to get their heads back in the game, seeing as they literally had to pick their equipment off the ice and try to reorganize their team after losing themselves in the moment when Jaques's shot crossed the line. On the succeeding restart, they immediately surrendered an odd-person chance, and while that wasn't the finale, it took just one more minute of game time. The Boston forecheck, including a hit on the boards from Alina Müller, interrupted a Minnesota attempt to carry the puck out of the zone. Theresa Schafzahl recovered possession and passed to a darting Müller, who decisively bested Hensley on the high glove side.

It's a testament to the fortitude of the Minnesota people that I saw no reports of anyone vomiting in their seats during or directly following these events. But the only consolation from the horrifically bitter end is this: There's no better spot to wake up in after losing a double-OT heartbreaker than "one more win earns you the Cup." Minnesota will simply have to shake off the disappointment and focus entirely on what's next—a journey to the belly of the beast (Lowell, Mass.) for a winner-take-all game on Wednesday. Both these squads have been pushed to their limit, and Boston sure seems hungry for one more soul. But if Minnesota can conjure one last win, that scrubbed celebration in Game 4 will have just been a very stressful dress rehearsal.

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