PWHL Preview: Boston Returns to Action Tonight Against Toronto

The wait is finally over: the PWHL returns tonight! Boston returns home to take on league-leading Toronto in one of the evening's two games.

PWHL Preview: Boston Returns to Action Tonight Against Toronto
Sophie Shirley and Kali Flanagan watch the play behind them. Photo courtesy of the PWHL.

PWHL Boston takes on Toronto tonight in their return to action after over three weeks off from games due to the break for the IIHF Women’s World Championships.

The Basics: Thursday, April 18, 2024- Boston vs Toronto- 7 p.m. EDT, Tsongas Center, Lowell, MA (NESN, Sportsnet Pittsburgh, TSN, PWHL Youtube Channel)

What to Expect

Girard and Larocque battle while Emma Söderberg makes a save. They're off to the left of the screen, with Girard maintaining contact with Larocque from behind. Söderberg is next to them on her knees, kicking her left leg out to make the save. The Boston players are in white, while Toronto is in blue.
Taylor Girard and Jocelyne Larocque battle while Emma Söderberg makes a save. Photo by Alex D'Addese/PWHL.

This is the fifth and final meeting between Boston and Toronto this season. Boston’s only win in the series came when they battled through a slow start to win 3-2 on the road in their first meeting on January 17. It’s been three straight regulation losses since (all during Toronto’s remarkable 11-game win streak), with a 5-3 home loss on Valentine’s Day, a 3-1 road loss on March 6, and a 2-1 road loss on March 20.

No PWHL team has played together in weeks, which will make for an interesting dynamic. The non-national team players continued to practice during the break, so they'll be fine with each other. However, the Worlds just ended on Sunday, so there has been little time to re-establish a groove with the whole team. Will Toronto have the same mojo? Was Boston able to use this break to reset and come back stronger for a final playoff push? We’ll start to get an answer tonight.

The last time Boston played, they left valuable points behind when they lost to last-place New York, 3-2. The loss put them five points back of Ottawa for the final playoff spot with five games remaining. It’s not an impossible task to still make playoffs, but their margin for error is nearly non-existent and they’ll need help from other teams. So, look for them to come out hard tonight and show some desperation as they fight for their season.

As for Toronto, they lost 5-3 to Ottawa back on March 23 to snap their 11-game win streak. They currently sit in first place with five games remaining, one point ahead of Minnesota. Toronto needs just one point tonight to become the first team to clinch a playoff spot. So, look for them to come out hungry as they look to clinch and regain their incredible form from the win streak ahead of playoffs.

 Kristen Campbell prepares to make a save. She is crouched with her stick blocking part of her five-hole and glove slightly raised. She is in a blue home uniform and her all-blue Toronto goalie gear.
Kristen Campbell prepares to make a save. Photo by Alex D'Addese/PWHL.

In goal, look for Kristen Campbell to get the start for Toronto. She went to the Worlds with Team Canada but didn’t see any game action, so they’ll want to get her back in ASAP. Erica Howe has also not played a game since before the Worlds, but she’s already gone long stretches between games this season and she’s not their starter it’s unlikely Toronto will be as concerned about her sharpness. Campbell is 9-3-0-5 on the season, with a 2.06 GAA (fourth overall) and 0.920 SV% (seventh overall).

As for Boston, it’s a little more unclear, as usual. Aerin Frankel played six of the seven USA games en route to a silver medal and closed out the Worlds on Sunday with her third game in four days. Meanwhile, Emma Söderberg started all five of Sweden’s games but hasn’t played in a week. After the last international break for the Rivalry Series, Frankel was given a little more rest and wasn’t even dressed for the first game back (also against Toronto). So, Boston could opt to go that route again, although I doubt they would go so far as to scratch her this time. That said, the points feel more valuable now than they did back then given their standings position. It’s crunch time for Boston, and they cannot afford to keep letting points slip away. That usually points to Frankel. However, Söderberg has started three of the four games against Toronto, and she took over for Frankel in the third period of the other. She’s performed at least respectably in all of them, especially considering how the rest of the team played.

There’s something to be said about throwing an opponent a curveball sometimes by starting a different goalie, but I’m not sure how much that’d help here. Six of Toronto’s skaters just faced Frankel twice during the Worlds, including in the gold medal game, so she’s not exactly new to many of them. Finally, right before the break, Boston had mostly returned to a goalie rotation, and Frankel got the most recent start. However, while it’s still worth mentioning, I’m not sure if that’s something they’ll stick to after three weeks off. All of this considered, I lean more towards Söderberg starting tonight, if I have to choose. A little extra rest won't hurt Frankel after playing so much in such a short time. Plus, there seems to be something about Söderberg’s game that head coach Courtney Kessel prefers for the Toronto matchup. The eye test says Söderberg has been better than her numbers suggest this season, but she is 1-2-0-3 with a 2.81 GAA (11th overall) and 0.884 SV% (12th overall).

Boston’s Key to the Game

Maltais (left, back) tries to defend against Tapani (right, front). Both are slightly crouched while skating, and their sticks are in front of them. Tapani is carrying the puck. Tapani is in white, while Maltais is in blue.
Emma Maltais tries to defend against Susanna Tapani. Photo by Alex D'Addese/PWHL.

Play a full 60 minutes. Boston has yet to play a complete game against Toronto, and their record reflects it. Toronto has become too good of a team to beat without putting the pedal to the metal for the whole game. Boston has got to find a way to dig in and do that tonight, or they’re unlikely to kick off the season's home stretch on a high note.