Richards’ hat trick puts Minnesota in NWHL finals

BOSTON — Audra Richards had a hat trick with an assist, Amanda Leveille made 44 saves and the Minnesota Whitecaps rolled to a 7-0 victory over the Connecticut Whale in the NWHL semifinals on Friday night.

Allie Thunstrom added two goals and Nina Rodgers had three assists for Minnesota, the second seed, which plays for the Isobel Cup championship on Saturday against fourth-seeded Boston.

The Whitecaps, 2019 champions, were scheduled to play top-seeded Boston for the Cup last year before COVID-19 shut down the league two days before the finals.

Richards had the puck behind the net and sent a backhanded pass out front to unmarked Haylea Schmid for the only goal the Whitecaps would need just 6:26 into the game.

Connecticut had a tying goal taken away after video review determined the puck did not completely cross the goal line.

“It was well-rounded by everyone on our team,” Leveille said. “I think the big momentum (swing) was in the first period when Haylea Schmid pulled that puck out of the net, it was an incredible play by her. After that, we just kept taking it to Connecticut.”

Minnesota took a 2-0 lead in the first period on Thunstrom’s breakaway just after the 2019-20 scoring champion was thwarted on a break by Connecticut goalie Abbie Ives.

Richards added a pair of goals in the second period as the Whitecaps settled this one early.

Haley Mack also scored for the Whitecaps.

Richards scored her two goals sandwiched around Mack’s — the first capping a 2-on-1 barely two minutes into the second period and then cleaning up a big rebound.

Thunstrom and Richards both scored in the final five minutes of the game, although the Whale had a 44-29 difference in shots.

Even the abbreviated season, played in a bubble in Lake Placid, New York, was shut down in early February with the six teams playing between three and seven games. The teams hadn’t played since early February. Minnesota and Connecticut did not play before the shutdown.