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Toronto Furies beat Calgary, Markham Thunder shut out by Montréal in CWHL semi-finals

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Natalie Spooner scores two to lift Toronto over Calgary, Emerance Maschmeyer shuts out Markham.

Shea Tiley of the Toronto Furies makes a save on Dakota Woodworth of the Calgary Inferno Laine Schuck / CWHL

Welcome to the 2019 Clarkson Cup playoffs! It’s semi-finals time, a best-of-three weekend with four CWHL teams in action, but only two will make it to Coca-Cola Coliseum for the Clarkson Cup Final on March 24th.

Toronto Furies 3 - Calgary Inferno 1

The late game today was the Toronto Furies vs the Calgary Inferno, a matchup of the first and fourth seeds that saw Calgary coming in as the heavy favorites with Toronto as scrappy underdogs riding a five-game win streak.

Toronto started off the series with Shea Tiley in net, Megan Quinn and Renata Fast on the blue line, and Shannon Stewart, Sarah Nurse, and Natalie Spooner at forward. Jenna Dingeldein and Jessica Platt are both scratched.

The Inferno sent out a starting lineup of Zoe Hickel, Brianna Decker, and Rebecca Johnston at forward (YIKES), with Kacey Bellamy and Katelyn Gosling on defense and Alex Rigsby in goal.

First Period

The first period was full of tight, back and forth play—while the Inferno got the majority of the offensive chances, Toronto was doing a fantastic job defensively, backchecking tightly and controlling the passing lanes in their own zone.

A strong shot block at the Furies blue line by Spooner gave the Furies their first good chance, although Gosling was there to neutralize it. The Furies top line looked great immediately; Nurse had a lot of jump in her play from the beginning, and used her speed really effectively to drive play. It’s a good thing she seemed to have a lot of energy, because it seemed like head coach Courtney Kessel was double-shifting that line from the start. They saw a lot of ice time this game.

One of the best chances of the period was courtesy of Brittany Howard, who forced a turnover in the Calgary zone and then snapped a lovely backhand on net. Rigsby made the save and then again on the rebound, but Howard made her work for it.

Mellissa Channell had a fantastic period, including a great play to force a Calgary player out of the zone with a poke-check at the Furies blue line. While her defense was a high point, she also had one of the Furies best offensive chances of the period, maneuvering through a handful of Inferno defenders to get a strong shot on Rigsby right from the slot.

Katelyn Gosling was called for hooking a little over halfway through the period, but the Furies only got about twenty seconds of power play time before the Inferno took it the other way, leading to Megan Quinn getting sent to the box (also for hooking).

It was a very physical period with a ton of body contact; at one point, Carolyne Prévost and Venla Hovi collided and they both went down hard, and late in the period, Natalie Spooner got tangled up with an Inferno player and dragged down.

Sena Suzuki sent a slapper right into Rigsby’s chest, forcing a faceoff, and then Carlee Campbell did the same with another point shot. The Furies were definitely trying to get the puck on net as much as possible, which was a good strategy—at the very least, it gained them quite a few offensive zone faceoffs.

Both Rigsby and Tiley looked excellent this period. Tiley had a bit more work to do (and came through when necessary—a pad save on a Bellamy slapshot and a kick save late in the period on Brianna Decker stood out as particularly adrenaline-jolting), but Rigsby was calm and very solid when the Furies were able to put pucks on her.

A bad fumble by Julia Fedeski off a Fast pass gave Blayre Turnbull a breakaway, but fortunately the Furies were able to get back before she can get a shot off, and Fedeski made a rather nice play to strip Turnbull and fix her own mistake.

The Furies backcheck looked excellent the whole period, and it was a team effort—one of the best defensive plays of the period was by Natalie Spooner to neutralize the always-dangerous Brianna Decker.

Towards the end of the period, Sarah Nurse rang a shot off the crossbar, but between Rigsby and Tiley no one managed to convert. We went into first intermission tied up at zero.

Second Period

The second period started off with a bang, in the form of a great save by Shea Tiley on Zoe Hickel after a terrifying passing play by that terrifying Inferno top line.

She followed it up with another great save, but the Furies luck would not hold. The Inferno finally broke the 0-0 tie with a point shot by Brigette Lacquette that found its way into the back of the net.

The tide of the game shifted as the period went on, with Calgary spending more and more time pinning the Furies in their own zone. The Furies defense was still doing work—Megan Quinn had some great defensive plays, including neatly stripping an Inferno of the puck along the boards in the Furies zone, and Mackenzie MacNeil was finally able to force a turnover and send the puck the other way to get her tired teammates a line change.

The Inferno might have started to dominate, but Natalie Spooner is still Natalie Spooner. Lacquette turned over the puck, Prévost touched it to Spooner, and Spooner scored an unsurprisingly gorgeous goal, tucking the puck right around Alex Rigsby’s toe pad to tie the game at 1.

Calgary continued to lean on the Furies—they’re not the top team in the league for nothing. Tiley made another great save, this time on Brianna Decker right in the crease. Shortly after, a shot by Turnbull bounced over Tiley and hit the crossbar, ending up back in front of the paint, where multiple Furies desperately dove to try and sweep it out of the way. Somehow, it stayed out and the score stayed tied.

Not long after that, Venla Hovi went to the box for body-checking. Toronto’s second power play was over even faster than their first, but with a far superior result. Spooner wired a shot from the high slot, and caught Rigsby unprepared, making it 2-1 Furies.

Spooner was dragged down by Lacquette in the neutral zone to keep her from getting a breakaway and, very possibly, completing the hat trick. It put the Furies right back on the power play, and they started off with good puck movement. Tiley smothered a shorthanded chance by Calgary in the paint, but the power play elapsed without anyone scoring.

Natalie Spooner took a slapshot on Rigsby that I briefly thought would complete her hat trick, but Rigsby managed to fight it off into the corner.

Not long after, there was a scramble in Rigsby’s crease, which led to Zoe Hickel going off for a cross-checking minor. Both the broadcasters and I had assumed the whistle was for goalie interference, but I make a point of not complaining about dubious penalty calls that benefit my team.

As she was attempting to re-enter the zone, Sarah Nurse was clipped by Brigette Lacquette in front of the Furies bench in what looked like a knee-on-knee hit, and went down in obvious pain.

Lacquette was handed a roughing minor and a ten-minute misconduct, and with Rebecca Johnston in the box serving the minor, the Furies were handed almost a solid minute of 5 on 3 time. Calgary escaped the last thirty seconds of the second period without allowing a goal, and the Furies went into second intermission with a 2-1 lead.

Third Period

To the relief of Furies fans everywhere, Sarah Nurse started off the third period on the ice as the Furies finished off their 5 on 3 time. She was also still clearly a bit piqued about having drawn said 5 on 3 in the first place, because she almost immediately sniped the puck past Alex Rigsby like this was practice.

Don’t make Sarah Nurse angry, guys.

Howard tried to make it 4-1 moments later with a point-blank shot that Rigsby saved. Natalie Spooner had a great setup chance at one point with a centering pass that no one was home to convert.

Most of this period, to put credit where credit is due, was the Shea Tiley Show. She made what felt like a half-dozen standout saves on the Inferno’s top line alone. The Furies backchecking was less crisp and organized as the period went on than it was in the first (players were tired, and I do not blame them), but Tiley stepped up and put on a clinic. This was her first CWHL playoff game, and you would not have known it, watching her repeatedly stonewall Rebecca Johnston.

Halfway through the period, Nurse got put into the boards by Bellamy. Nurse was NOT HAPPY (neither was I) but the refs agreed with Sarah, and Bellamy went to the box for body-checking. I did not have “Calgary can’t control their emotions, gets into penalty trouble” as an expectation for tonight, but truly, the playoffs are full of surprises! They had more trouble keeping the zone in this power play. One of the funniest moments in the whole game came on a Brianna Decker shorthanded chance—she took a little too much time lining up a shot and Mellissa Channell just reached right in and poke-checked the puck away. Mellissa Channell is a treasure, and I want to thank her personally for that laugh.

A couple minutes later, Brittany Howard took a slashing call on Rebecca Leslie, sending Calgary to their first full power play of the game. The entire time the first unit was on the ice was a source of deep personal stress (my notes included the extremely astute and specific observation of “I dont liek this PP it’s scary”)—they had crisp puck movement, especially around the top of the umbrella, and the Furies had a lot of difficulty getting the puck out. They had more success clearing the zone once the second unit was on the ice, and they managed to kill it off.

The Furies rode the momentum of the last minute or so of their penalty kill, and did a good job keeping Calgary from getting any significant zone time towards the end of the period. The Inferno pulled Rigsby with about two and a half minutes left, and twenty seconds later, things got really interesting [read: stressful]. Tiley made a standout save on a point-blank Rebecca Johnston shot and smothered the rebound, after which Bellamy and Fast punched each other a bit and were sent to the box for offsetting minors.

Fast was also called for holding (served by Emily Fulton) giving Calgary a power play with 2:10 left. The Furies would play almost the entire rest of the game six on four, and it is a credit to both Shea Tiley and the Furies organization on defense that they were able to hold the line. Tiley barely looked ruffled by Rebecca Johnston essentially using her for target practice for the last two minutes. The Furies took the first semifinal game 3-1, setting up a pivotal Game 2 in Calgary tomorrow night.

Three Stars

3. Brianna Decker, Calgary Inferno

2. Shea Tiley, Toronto Furies (33 saves on 34 shots)

1. Natalie Spooner, Toronto Furies (2 goals, 1 assist)

Notes

  • Natalie Spooner really loves Calgary, man. She’s scored in both of the Furies wins against the Inferno this season and added two tonight. She also once had a five-goal, six-point game in Calgary in December 2015.
  • This win sets up a pivotal Game 2 tomorrow night, where a Furies win will send them to the Clarkson Cup Final, and a Calgary win will force a Game 3 on Sunday afternoon. It’s a great position for Toronto to be in.
  • This is Toronto’s sixth (!!!) consecutive win, after they won five games straight to get themselves to the playoffs in the first place. Let’s get two more and a trophy, eh?
  • According to PPP correspondent mediajunkie, who is on the ground in Calgary (LUCKY!), Julia Fedeski appeared to be getting some attention from the trainer for an injury during second intermission. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

Markham Thunder 0 - Les Canadiennes de Montréal 3

Erica Howe got the net for the Thunder, as we’ll expect to see for the entire playoff run. The starting skaters were Megan Bozek and Laura Fortino on the blue line, and Victoria Bach, Laura Stacey and Jamie Lee Rattray up front. Nicole Kosta was a scratch, as was Ailish Forfar, who is still in Siberia at the Universiade.

Emerance Maschmeyer was in goal for Montréal. Catherine Daoust and Lauriane Rougeau started on defence and the second line of Jill Saulnier, Hilary Knight, and Karell Émard were the starting forwards. Marie-Philip Poulin was one of the scratches, day-to-day after her fall in the final game of the season.

Also, per Knight’s instagram, a thief took off with a car belonging to one of the Canadiennes so some of them played in borrowed skates.

First period

Less than two minutes into the game Montréal thought they had scored but the goal was called off as the play had already been blown dead — the officials had lost track of the puck.

Kelly Gribbons went to the box on a hooking call not long afterwards, and Markham managed to kill of the penalty.

Jenna McParland took Canadiennes defender Erin Ambrose into the boards and was given 10 and 2 for head contact. The minor penalty was served by Alexis Woloschuk but she only sat for 14 seconds before Mélodie Daoust scored to put Montréal up 1-0. Hilary Knight got the assist.

Less than a minute later the Thunder were on the penalty kill again. This time Rattray went off for holding the stick. 61 seconds later the Canadiennes got a penalty of their own as Jillian Saulnier was called for roughing. Markham didn’t manage to score on the 4 on 4 or the power play.

Marie-Joëlle Allard was the next Canadienne to the box, sitting for hooking. The power play started with a massive save by Maschmeyer but Markham ended up not getting a lot of chances during the advantage — the Montréal defenders cleared the zone a number of times.

Erica Howe had to make a save on Knight in the last minute of play but the period ended with the Thunder down only 1-0. Shots were 12 to 7 in favour of Montréal.

Second period

After the incident between McParland and Ambrose, Ambrose had come back out to play late in the first period, but during the second we learned that she was now out of the game. Karell Émard seemed to be the forward filling in on defense for Montréal most often.

The first three quarters of the period were otherwise quiet, with play going up and down the ice.

Unfortunately Thunder captain Jocelyne Larocque sat for holding at 16:44. The Canadiennes power play went to work. Defender Catherine Daoust sent a shot in from the point that bounced on Howe (may have been tipped by her own defender, Bozek) and went in. The assist was credited to Sarah Lefort. The Thunder were down 2-0, both on power plays.

Shots in the period again favoured the Canadiennes, 16-4.

Third period

The Thunder started the period with possession, harassing the Canadiennes, keeping it in the Montréal zone for most of the first five minutes.

Emerance Maschmeyer came out to play a puck and collided with Jess Jones. Didn’t seem to be any harm done and no call on the play either.

As the period wore on, the Canadiennes started to play like they were the team who were down by two, pressing hard and making some plays that looked almost desperate, which was a really bad sign for Markham.

Karell Émard took exception to Becca King and was sent to the box for roughing halfway through the period. Rattray started off the power play with an excellent shot but Maschmeyer countered with an equally excellent save. It was a better power play than we saw in the first, but they still finished in their own zone.

Shortly after the penalty expired the Thunder heard the terrible “ping” of a puck off the Montréal crossbar to keep them off the scoreboard.

Hilary Knight made it 3-0 about a minute later on a great play that involved her carrying the puck in, avoiding defenders and then potting her own rebound to score unassisted.

The Canadiennes continued to press, they seemed to be looking to make it a blowout.

Markham got a last-minute chance on the power play when Sophie Brault tripped up McParland with 25.8s to go, but they couldn’t manage to break the Maschmeyer shutout.

Shots on goal were 7 to 3 on the period and 34 to 13 in favour of the Canadiennes.

Three stars

3. Mélodie Daoust, les Canadiennes de Montréal (game winning goal)

2. Catherine Daoust, les Canadiennes de Montréal (1 goal)

1. Emerance Maschmeyer, les Canadiennes de Montréal (13 save shutout)

Notes

  • The Canadiennes were without their best forward and, for most of the game, their best defender. Add in the skate mishap and you have to wonder exactly what will it take for the Thunder to force a game three?
  • This might be a large ask for Markham but one thing that they’ve got to try and do is stay out of the penalty box. Only one goal was scored at even strength in the game.
  • Shout-out to Canadiennes play by play announcer Robyn Flynn who did double duty tonight, streaming the game via periscope on her phone while calling the play after serious technical issues at the rink killed the official stream.

The all-important game two of each series goes down Saturday night. Markham’s do or die game starts at 6:00 pm EST while Toronto’s first crack at a berth in the Clarkson Cup Final starts at 8:45 pm EST. Both games will be streamed by the league.