Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell (50) celebrates clinching first place in...

Toronto goaltender Kristen Campbell (50) celebrates clinching first place in the league with teammate Maggie Connors (22) after defeating Minnesota in a PWHL hockey game in Toronto on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Credit: AP/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — Natalie Spooner scored twice and Toronto clinched first place in the inaugural season of the Professional Women’s Hockey League with a 4-1 win over Minnesota on Wednesday night.

Toronto (12-4-0-7) moved ahead of Montreal (10-3-5-5) in the standings with 44 points, while holding the tiebreaker in case of a tie by regular season’s end. Both teams have one game remaining before the post-season begins next week.

“It feels great,” Spooner said of clinching first on home ice. “That was the goal the whole season, the regular season, to be the first-place team. And to be able to pull that out and build throughout the season, it feels good to be able to get that going into the playoffs.”

Earning first place means Toronto is able to choose between the third- or fourth-place team as its first playoff opponent.

“It will be, probably more of a collaboration and a joint effort than most people would think it is,” Toronto head coach Troy Ryan said of picking an opponent.

Hannah Miller and Emma Maltais, with an empty-netter, also scored for Toronto, which extended its winning streak to three games. Kristen Campbell made 25 saves.

Ryan had said heading into the final five games of the year after the international break that he didn’t want his team ending up in games they have to grind out. Adding onto a 6-2 win over New York on Sunday, he was content with his team.

Toronto's Brittany Howard (41) drives Minnesota's Maggie Flaherty (19) into...

Toronto's Brittany Howard (41) drives Minnesota's Maggie Flaherty (19) into the boards during the second period of a PWHL hockey game in Toronto on Wednesday May 1, 2024. Credit: AP/Frank Gunn

“That was my only message in the (locker) room — it was nice that we didn’t have to grind this out,” he said. “I was able to play 13 forwards and six (defenders), so it’s just nice that you’re not having to tire it out, shortening your bench at this point in the season.

“You want to be able to give everybody some valuable experience right now in meaningful games in case you have to rely on them to play key minutes in the playoffs.”

Spooner’s two goals extended her lead atop the league for points (25) and goals (18). Maltais also dished out two assists, taking the league lead with 15 on the season.

Michela Cava scored for Minnesota (8-4-3-8), which entered the game needing just one point to clinch a playoff spot and third place in the standings.

Minnesota goaltender Maddie Rooney (35) makes a save on Toronto's...

Minnesota goaltender Maddie Rooney (35) makes a save on Toronto's Hannah Miller (34) during the second period of a PWHL hockey game in Toronto on Wednesday May 1, 2024. Credit: AP/Frank Gunn

“That’s what I just told our team, we still have another tomorrow,” Minnesota head coach Ken Klee said. “We still control our own destiny.”

Maddie Rooney stopped 19 shots in the last of four regular-season matchups between the two sides, with Toronto taking the season series 2-1-0-1. Toronto went 2-for-3 on the power play while holding Minnesota scoreless on three advantages.

“We lost the special teams battle,” said Klee, who felt his team started the game out strong. “In the third, again, we were coming out firing and then it just seemed like the net was getting smaller and smaller and … they did a great job blocking shots, you’ve got to give them credit.”

Cava opened the scoring 4:14 into the first period. Taylor Heise found Maggie Flaherty from behind the net, and Cava tipped in Flaherty’s point shot past Campbell.

Miller tied it on the power play at 10:16. Maltais, from the right faceoff circle, sent the puck to Sarah Nurse, who was near the back of the net and whizzed a pass into the slot for Miller who finished off the tic-tac-toe play.

Spooner put Toronto ahead 11:10 into the second period on the power play. Renata Fast sent in a point shot that Spooner got her stick on.

Spooner added to her goal total and Toronto’s lead 7:21 into the third period. She blocked Lee Stecklein’s point shot and immediately went on a breakaway, where she got Rooney to bite on a deke well enough to almost the leave the entire net open and scored.

Maltais scored into an empty net with 2:05 remaining while almost falling with two defenders on her heels.

UP NEXT

Minnesota wraps up its season in New York on Saturday.

Toronto hosts Ottawa to close the season on Sunday.

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