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CWHL Playoffs: Les Canadiennes de Montréal will meet the Calgary Inferno in the Clarkson Cup Final

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The Markham Thunder and Toronto Furies were overwhelmed by stronger competition in the final semi-final games.

Shanna Martin-Book / CWHL

For the do-or-die game of the Markham Thunder’s semifinal series against les Canadiennes de Montréal, Erica Howe got her third consecutive start this weekend. Jocelyne Larocque and Ella Matteucci started on defense, out with Markham’s top line of Laura Stacey, Victoria Bach, and Jamie Lee Rattray. Unfortunately for the Thunder, along with Nicole Kosta and Ailish Forfar, Jess Jones and Laura Fortino were scratched for the second game in a row.

Les Canadiennes countered with Emerance Maschmeyer in goal, Lauriane Rougeau and Catherine Daoust on the blue line, and a starting forward line of Sarah Lefort, Ann-Sophie Bettez, and Karell Émard. Erin Ambrose and Marie-Philip Poulin were both still out.

First Period

We started off the game with a great save on Hilary Knight by Erica Howe to open things up. Ann-Sophie Bettez also had a good chance early from the high slot—you know, the usual suspects.

Markham’s first good chance was off a great centering pass from Jamie Lee Rattray to Laura Stacey, but strong defense by Karell Émard kept Stacey from getting a shot off in the slot.

In a heart-pounding sequence. Knight wired a shot from the high slot, and one of her linemates got the rebound but couldn’t hammer it into the open net past Howe. Knight sent the puck just wide of the cage not long after. That all-Olympian Knight-Mélodie Daoust-Jill Saulnier line was unequestionably the best one this period—they ran the table whenever they hit the ice, and I lost count of how many good chances they had.

They weren’t the only ones getting in on the action, either, as Kim Deschênes sent a shot just wide of an open net.

Catherine Daoust was called for delay of game at about the seven-minute mark, and the power play started off with a good shot from Rattray that rung off the crossbar. Rattray crashed hard into the end boards right after, and skated off doubled over but still under her own power.

Other than that chance, Markham had a lot of trouble keeping the puck in on the power play. Montréal’s penalty kill, on the other hand, looked great—they were disrupting chances, clearing the zone, and making life difficult for the Thunder on re-entry. They killed it off and we returned to 5 on 5 still scoreless.

Nicole Brown had a great chance on Maschmeyer but Masch made a sprawling save to keep it scoreless.

Saulnier tried to dish it to Knight but Ella Matteucci had a great play to break it up. Unfortunately for Markham, immediately after Lauriane Rougeau just tossed the puck towards the net and Mélodie Daoust got her stick on it, tipping it backhand. 1-0 Montréal.

Kristen Barbara collided with Geneviève Bannon out of frame, and Barbara immediately left the ice. Hopefully she’s not seriously hurt.

The Knight line got a great 3 on 2 chance, but Howe made the save and they weren’t quite able to convert.

By then, Rattray had returned to the ice, a fact made obvious when Marie-Joëlle Allard got tangled up with a teammate and turned the puck over in her own zone. Rattray swooped in to slam a shot on Maschmeyer. Giving those kinds of opportunities to Jamie Lee Rattray is a mistake.

Erica Howe had to do a lot of work here—saving a weak shot by Jill Saulnier, smothering it after a Kim Deschênes attempt—a job only made harder by Markham’s increasing difficulties clearing the zone, even at 5 on 5. Stacey finally broke them out, but Montréal immediately regained possession and sent it the other way.

On one of Markham’s forays into the other end, Taylor Willard tripped Larocque as she was charging in on goal, and Willard was (quite rightly) whistled for interference. Markham continued to have trouble keeping the puck in the zone even while up a woman. Saulnier intercepted a pass across the high zone and charged in shorthanded, and I thought we might have a scary moment or two, but the Markham defense didn’t let her get a shot off. She and her teammates did pass it around the neutral zone a bit, killing more time.

Then Markham iced the puck on the power play, one of those things you really never want to do. It was not a good power play for them. They finally looked like they might get set up at the very end but uh, didn’t work out that way, and the period ended shortly after play returned to 5 on 5.

Second Period

We started off with a great play by Catherine Daoust to force a turnover in the neutral zone followed by a diving play to try and send it the other way, before Markham was able to collect it. Matteucci got a good chance on Maschmeyer, but she handled it.

Knight fed Saulnier right across the crease, and Markham couldn’t stop or collect the puck to clear it. Saulnier was able to just pop it over Howe’s pad. 2-0 Montréal.

Only a little more than a minute later, Melanie Desrochers was hauled down by Laura Stacey behind Maschmeyer, and les Canadiennes headed to the power play for the first time this game.

There was so much player movement on this Canadiennes power play! The top three players just kept rotating, it was beautiful and horrifying! Eventually Saulnier fired the puck and it was tipped by Lauriane Rougeau, making it 3-0.

Émard literally threw a classic body check on some poor unsuspecting Thunder player along the boards in the Markham zone, which seems like a thing that should not be allowed. I know the CWHL is iffier on the whole no-bodychecking thing in women’s hockey, but there’s body contact, and then there’s throwing a hit.

It didn’t even take five minutes for Montréal to take a four-goal lead. Willard took a shot from the left faceoff circle and Knight tipped it in. The goal made it 4-0 Montréal, and suddenly Markham was staring up from the bottom of a significant hole.

The rink announcer was super hype when he announced all the goals, though. I do appreciate that.

The puck bounced around in the air in front of Howe after a Catherine Daoust shot, but Markham was able to clear. Montréal continued to press—this is women’s hockey, where we score until we cannot any more, and a 4-0 lead is not safe enough.

A Nicole Brown pass barely missed a teammate, who couldn’t get a shot on Masch. It has seemed like quite a while since the Thunder last got a shot on Maschmeyer, if we’re being honest. It was the Montréal Canadiennes show at this point, and Markham looked knocked back on their heels.

Howe got a piece of a Deschênes shot to stop it from turning 5-0. Soon after, Saulnier charged in alone and threw a shot on Howe, but it didn’t look like she quite got everything on it, and Howe made a pad save.

A great chance for Markham from Rattray, who is still wonderful, even down four goals. She slid right into the high slot and wired it through traffic on Maschmeyer, who made a tough save.

Catherine Daoust leveled Laura Stacey, who was slow to get up. Stacey took a real beating this game; a lot of body contact, and a lot of shot blocks.

Jocelyne Larocque carried it in and had a quality shot from right on Maschmeyer’s doorstep but Catherine Daoust tipped it away and turned it into a Montréal rush the other way. I’ve been impressed by both Daousts this game, but Catherine’s name kept coming up.

Tracy-Ann Lavigne charged through the neutral zone and wired an absolutely beautiful shot past Howe. It was just gorgeous, she snapped it off so quick. 5-0 Montréal.

Laura Stacey leaned into a shot off a Larocque pass, getting it off from one knee, but Masch saved it.

Les Canadiennes kept pressing. Rougeau tried a really nice one-timer that Howe stopped, and a turning shot by Bettez, clearly intended to be tipped or put in on the rebound, found nobody home. Late in the period, Lefort tried to pick top corner and sent it wide. Knight almost made it 6-0 on a rolling puck at the top of the crease, but she couldn’t quite get her stick on it to put it in the open net. Bannon fired a shot in from the slot and Howe squeezed it to her chest.

At this point, Markham was getting maybe one-shot chances before Montréal sent the puck the other way. No sustained pressure or anything, and Maschmeyer handled the first-chance opportunities pretty easily.

The period ended with a fabulous stick move by Rattray charging in on Maschmeyer—she looped the Montréal defender but couldn’t put the puck in the back of the net.

Third Period

A turning shot by Mélodie Daoust is blocked by Larocque, in case anyone was wondering if les Canadiennes were content with five goals.

Maschmeyer made a good save on Laura Stacey, because screw other people’s goals, Emerance Maschmeyer wants a playoff shutout.

It was a bit of a track meet to start the period. Markham was spending less time in their own end than they did through most of the second, but they were also not getting a lot of really quality chances on Maschmeyer, which won’t cut it with a 5-0 hole.

There was a cloooooooose call on a shot by Mélodie Daoust, Howe made the initial save but the rebound landed right in front of an open net. The Thunder were able to sweep it out of danger before anyone in red could hammer it home.

Larocque came in close on Maschmeyer and tried to tuck it around her pad, tucked herself into the net instead. This does not count on the scoreboard. The Thunder generally seemed to be getting more and more up in Maschmeyer’s business late in the game—she had been calm and flawless to that point, and it makes sense that they’d want to rattle her.

Lavigne got absolutely dumped by Kristen Richards, in a reckless and poorly-timed move. Richards was sent to the box for roughing, and Montréal got a third-period power play with a 5-0 lead and about eight minutes left. Suboptimal!

That Montréal power play was a lot. Jill Saulnier got teed up for a shot right from the slot, but Howe saved it. Daoust had a backhand shot attempt from the faceoff circle, and then somehow kept possession even after it was blocked.

Rougeau collided hard with Laura Stacey, who went down in obvious pain, and then tried to get to her feet and stumbled. She stayed on the ice (the refs didn’t blow the play dead) but eventually went off at the whistle. Hopefully that wasn’t as bad as it looked.

The Thunder were able to escape that penalty kill unscathed, but they were running out of time, and still hadn’t gotten anything past Maschmeyer. From Montréal’s perspective, the last five minutes were more of a game of keep-away than anything else. A close shot by Maude Gélinas hit the post with only a few minutes left on the clock, but other than that, there wasn’t much excitement. A sprawling save by Maschmeyer with only a half minute left preserved her shutout, and les Canadiennes take the game 5-0 and the series 2-1.

Three Stars

3. Lauriane Rougeau, Les Canadiennes de Montréal (1 goal, 1 assist)

2. Mélodie Daoust, Les Canadiennes de Montréal (1 goal, 1 assist)

1. Hilary Knight, Les Canadiennes de Montréal (1 goal, 2 assists)

Notes

  • Losing both Laura Fortino and Jess Jones halfway through the weekend was a rough break for the Thunder—Fortino especially, she’s one of the best defenders in the whole league. It’s a real shame for Markham.
  • In the absence of Marie-Philip Poulin, that Knight line was absolutely clicking. They looked great all game.
  • The three-goal explosion at the start of the second period is a good example of what this Montréal team is capable of—it went from 1-0 to 4-0 in barely three minutes of game time. They don’t need much time to turn a game from winnable into out of reach, especially not with Emerance Maschmeyer in net. Calgary is going to have their work cut out for them.

Toronto Furies 1 - Calgary Inferno 4

Three games in three days is no joke, especially when there’s less than 24 hours between the last two. Both teams gave it their all in an attempt to make the Clarkson Cup Final

Sophomore goalie Elaine Chuli got her first CWHL playoff start in this crucial game, with Carlee Campbell and Renata Fast as her defenders and the top line of Shannon Stewart, Sarah Nurse, and Natalie Spooner up front.

As they did all series, Calgary rolled out Zoe Hickel, Brianna Decker, and Rebecca Johnston at forward, Kacey Bellamy and Katelyn Gosling on the blue line and Alex Rigsby in goal.

First period

The first period got off to a bit of a slow start, with a sense that the two teams were feeling each other out.

Chuli had the first saves of the game, but the Furies held their own, getting into the Calgary zone more often than we saw on Saturday night and generally keeping the Inferno occupied when they entered the Toronto zone.

Brigette Lacquette had the first penalty of the game, going off at 5:43 with a slashing call. Blayre Turnbull started things off with a shorthanded chance, coming in with help but not able to get a shot off. Renata Fast got the first Furies shot of the power play after some quick reflexes helped her keep the puck in the offensive zone. Calgary got the puck out again but Brittany Howard and Sarah Nurse both got shots on goal and the penalty ended with the puck in the Inferno zone.

Play continued to be back and forth, with the edge to Calgary. Chuli held up well, bailing her team out on a three on two, although neither she or Rigsby were seeing a lot of actual shots.

Carolyne Prévost had a very Prévost chance, coming in fast under pressure but lost the puck before she could get a shot off.

Late in the period, the Furies were doing better with getting some time in the offensive zone with possession but the Inferno continued to counter with shot attempts, Johnston, Decker and Venla Hovi being the most consistent offenders. Chuli faced pressure and kept things out. Style-wise she looked more active than Shea Tiley, but just as effective.

Unfortunately it was the Inferno who struck first. Zoe Hickel was behind the Toronto net under pressure when Brianna Decker came streaking in off the bench. Hickel got a pass out in front and Decker got a shot off down on one knee, directly in front of Chuli. It went in five-hole to give Calgary a 1-0 lead with just under a minute left in the period.

Mellissa Channell got the final shot attempt of the period, a shot that went high over the net as the buzzer went.

Shots for the period were 10 to 8 for Calgary.

Second period

Zoe Hickel started the period with an early chance on Chuli. The Furies spent the first minute or two mostly pinned into their own zone.

After a bit of back and forth play, Prévost got a shot off that resulted in a big rebound in front of Rigsby, but there was no one there from the Furies to capitalize.

The number of actual shots stayed low as play went back and forth. Toronto was falling back into the habit of getting the puck into the offensive zone but not keeping possession once it got there. Chuli continued making saves, with a little help from her defence.

At the 5:35 mark Prévost carried the puck in with speed, getting room away from the Inferno defenders. She sent an absolute beauty of a shot in without slowing down and beat Rigsby glove side to tie the game 1-1. Shiann Darkangelo got the assist.

The Furies went looking for a second goal almost immediately, stepping up the pressure on Calgary in what had become a much faster game than we saw in the first period.

The Inferno soon took over possession again, and Carlee Campbell had to make a nice defensive play to break up a scoring chance. Chuli made a glove save through a screen.

Venla Hovi continued to be a very active player for Calgary, getting a lot of shot attempts on Chuli.

Toronto managed some zone time and a dangerous looking scramble in front of Rigsby, but the puck came out heading the wrong direction. It was a good sequence for the Furies though, who managed to dump the puck back in and come back with new skaters after a change. Another mess in front of Rigsby was followed by a point shot, which she saved.

Calgary got control for a while including another shot by Rebecca Johnston, and then Brittany Howard got herself a breakway. Zoe Hickel decided the best way to stop her was an open-ice check, which got Howard off the puck but sent Hickel to the box.

It wasn’t the best power play for the Furies, who lost the puck to Johnston and then had trouble getting it any further than the neutral zone. The penalty expired without any shots from Toronto.

The tie was broken by Brianne Jenner late in the period. With 2:40 left in the period, Blayre Turnbull got a shot in on Chuli and Jenner was there with the tip. 2-1 Calgary, secondary assist to Halli Krzyzaniak.

The Furies reacted well to the goal, getting some time in on Rigsby after the faceoff, but the period expired without any further scoring.

Shots were 17 to 5 in favour of the Inferno.

Third period

The final frame started badly for the Furies as defender Megan Quinn tripped up Johnston and got caught 11 seconds in.

The Inferno were mostly content to cycle the puck. Decker, Lacquette and Turnbull all got shots off, although Lacquette’s was blocked and Turnbull missed the net. The Furies cleared the puck a few times and survived the penalty. There was an attempt to spring Quinn as she came out of the box but it was intercepted.

It must be said that while the Furies were definitely struggling in this game their attempts on net came from pretty much every line, it wasn’t just Spooner and Nurse. Howard and Prévost both had chances (Prévost again without her glove), Julie Allen, Renata Fast, Mellissa Channell, Shiann Darkangelo, everyone was making attempts.

Brianna Decker took the game that much further out of reach halfway through the period with a slapshot from the point to make it 3-1, assisted by Hickel and Lacquette.

Toronto continued to try but either their passes were missing, their shots blocked or Rigsby had an answer for whatever they were attempting.

What looked like a golden opportunity came with just under three minutes left. Calgary was called for too many skaters, served by Kelly Murray. The Furies immediately called their timeout and pulled Chuli.

A Mellissa Channell shot was deflected on goal and after a scramble in front the Furies thought they’d scored. The goal was waved off, although Natalie Spooner clearly thought the explanation was insufficient as she had quite an animated discussion with the ref.

In the end it was the Inferno who scored again, as Kacey Bellamy sent the puck from the Calgary blue line into the empty net to make the final score 4-1.

Shots were 8 to 5 for the Inferno, totalling 35 to 18 on the game.

Three stars

3. Blayre Turnbull, Calgary Inferno (1 assist)

2. Brianna Decker, Calgary Inferno (2 goals)

1. Brianne Jenner, Calgary Inferno (game winning goal)

Notes

  • It was a good run for the Furies but they came up short against a better team. I have hope that with the benefit of experience and some smart recruitment in the offseason we’ll see them get stronger and build on the season we saw this year.
  • We heard during the broadcast that defender Emma Greco is on the mend after her collarbone surgery and hopes to be back in the lineup next year.

The Clarkson Cup Final will see the Calgary Inferno meet les Canadiennes de Montréal at noon on Sunday, March 24th at Coca-Cola Coliseum. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster and the game will be broadcast on Sportsnet.