Friday night, after the Toronto Furies defeated the Calgary Inferno in the first game of their three-game series, hopes were high. The Furies scored five goals, Jenelle Kohanchuk had a hat trick, and Christina Kessler made 47 saves in a sparkling performance. It was a cause for optimism among those of us who had assumed a Calgary win to be inevitable. Unfortunately, both yesterday’s game and this afternoon’s played out in a similar fashion—a good, but uneven, performance by an underdog team that just couldn’t manage to pull out a win.
The Furies got off to a slow start, with Natalie Spooner taking a body-checking penalty twelve seconds in, and Julie Allen called for it again four minutes later. Even when the Furies had an abbreviated power play thanks to a tripping call on Iya Gavrilova, the Inferno controlled the game, peppering Kessler with shots and keeping the Furies from getting any sustained pressure. The Furies perked up offensively toward the end of the period, helped by a couple Inferno penalties, but it was Kessler who really shone. She made several highlight-reel saves—in one that particularly stood out, she saved Tanis Lamoreux’s bacon by stoning Jill Saulnier on a point-blank shot, after Saulnier picked off Lamoreux’s poorly timed pass.
Christina Kessler for playoff MVP pic.twitter.com/VHr3QeYyY2— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) February 27, 2017
She faced 20 shots in the period and kept the Inferno off the board. At the other end of the rink, Genevieve Lacasse saw a significantly lighter workload, but she was rock-solid when she had to be and the period ended with no score.
While the Furies showed more offensive life in the second period, the Inferno struck first. On the powerplay, a Haley Irwin shot took a funny bounce off a player in front of the net, and got past Kessler.
To the Furies’ credit, they didn’t let that one faze them. They looked steadily more dangerous as the period went on, and with three and a half minutes left, it paid off. Kohanchuk, Friday night’s hero, slipped a shot right past Lacasse from the faceoff circle.
It was the most human Lacasse had looked all weekend, and as the game went into second intermission, it seemed optimistic proof that she was beatable.
That optimism—and the Furies’ strong offensive play—lasted for the first half of the third. A Kelly Terry slashing penalty canceled out a Furies power play, and just as the penalty was expiring, Brianne Jenner snapped a quick shot past Kessler.
Fifteen seconds later, Jenner slid a pass through the slot onto the tape of Gavrilova, who buried it. She’s been Calgary’s best rookie this year, and plays like that show why.
After that, the Furies never really picked themselves up off the mat. The last ten minutes of the game were pure frustration, the Furies desperately trying to make something happen offensively and the Inferno perfectly happy to wind down the clock.
1st: Brianne Jenner, Inferno
2nd: Jill Saulnier, Inferno
3rd: Erin Ambrose, Furies
I cannot say enough good things about Christina Kessler’s performance this weekend. In three days, she played three games, faced 140 shots, and only allowed eight goals. While Lacasse was very good, Kessler outperformed the Inferno’s three-headed goalie monster, and is the major reason the Furies had a shot at the upset at all.
Kessler kept Toronto in it until the very end. pic.twitter.com/jBn0oUTFAU— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) February 27, 2017
Kessler made great saves all weekend pic.twitter.com/Mf0c9NWSVs— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) February 27, 2017
I’d expected fatigue to be more of a factor today, but if anyone out there was lagging, I didn’t notice it. Spooner seemed to be everywhere on the ice, and Terry played with an energetic aggressiveness that led to several quality Toronto chances.
Michela Cava also had a good game, with a few great chances that she wasn’t able to turn into goals. With Spooner, at least, in Calgary next year for Olympic centralization, it’s good to see non-national-team players like Cava showing an offensive touch.
Even with the series loss, the Furies’ play against the Inferno has improved from where it was earlier this season. Calgary has some scary offensive weapons, and while Toronto wasn’t able to keep them completely off the board, their defense didn’t look completely out of their depth. It’s worth noting that out of the six defenders on the Furies roster this weekend, three of them (Carlee Campbell, Erin Ambrose, and Renata Fast) are rookies. I’m excited to see how they perform with the benefit of experience.
The Furies’ season is over, but the CWHL season isn’t. Next Sunday, March 5th, is the Clarkson Cup championship game, where the Inferno will face off against les Canadiennes de Montreal. The game will be broadcast on Sportsnet at 4pm ET, and probably available on the CWHL website for those of us not in Canada.