It is no surprise that Les Canadiennes have made it to the Clarkson Cup final. As the CWHL regular season champions, they won the right to face the fourth seeded Toronto Furies in the first playoff round. Even better, they got to play on their home ice in Montreal.
It seemed like Toronto would put up a good fight at first. The Furies came out very strong, with Natalie Spooner attempting a shot almost immediately. The period would end scoreless, but it would be Montreal’s only scoreless period of the weekend. Les Canadiennes took no prisoners as they dominated the Furies. They took game one 5-1, and returned the next day to rout the Furies 7-1.
With a comfortable series win behind them – completing the regular and post-season undefeated on home ice – Les Canadiennes set their sights on the Calgary Inferno. The Inferno have given Montreal the most trouble this season, but Montreal couldn’t be in a better position to raise the Cup.
Numbers can say a lot about a hockey team. Statistics are the best quantifiable way to judge how good certain players are. Les Canadiennes, however, cannot be defined by numbers alone.
The chemistry the team has is indescribable unless seen firsthand. At times you would be convinced the Montreal roster is secretly controlled by a hive mind. There’s seemingly no other explanation for how they read each other so accurately.
Nowhere is the chemistry more apparent than on Montreal’s power play. Take for example the last goal Les Canadiennes scored in the series. You couldn’t choreograph a better series of passes.
— CWHL Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) February 28, 2016
The forward line of Ouellette-Poulin-Bettez is one no other team has an answer for. The three are immensely talented on their own, but the line as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The same can be said for the entire team.
It’s a phrase that is oft overused in sports. “This is our time.” There are few cases when it really has any meaning. This is season is one of those cases.
Les Canadiennes – the Montreal Stars at the time – were the underdog in last year’s Clarkson Cup final. They played brilliantly, forcing OT, but couldn’t best the embarrassingly stacked roster of the Boston Blades.
In the offseason, Montreal set to work to make sure they would not suffer the same fate twice. The 2015 CWHL Draft saw them regain superstar Marie-Philip Poulin and acquire McGill standout Katia Clement-Heydra. This gave Montreal incredible depth. The top two lines – Poulin centering Deschenes and Bettez, and Ouellette centering Marin and Clement-Heydra – are now equally lethal.
In addition to on-ice improvements, Montreal underwent a major off-ice rebranding. Now officially Les Canadiennes de Montreal, they have solidified relationships both with the NHL’s Les Canadiens de Montreal and with the community.
With all the improvements made to their game and rapport in the hockey community, it very truly is “Montreal’s time” to win the Clarkson Cup.
Smothering the Inferno
Calgary has been Montreal’s toughest competition this season. The only team to beat Les Canadiennes twice, the Inferno have done their best to find weakness in the league’s strongest team.
In the latest series between the teams, Calgary managed to keep the Montreal top line from scoring – the only time this had happened all season. However in focusing on the neutralizing the top line, Calgary allowed four goals from the second line.
The Inferno penalty kill has performed admirably against the Montreal power play, operating at an even 80%. Their power play needs to show up strong though to stand a chance against Montreal’s unbelievable PK. In 28 attempts against Les Canadiennes during the regular season, Calgary converted once on the player advantage, good for a success rate of only 3.57%.
Calgary’s last win against Montreal can be attributed to three factors. First, the return of Rebecca Johnston lit a spark under the team and provided new confidence. Second, Les Canadiennes were shorthanded, namely missing defender Julie Chu and third line forward Jordana Peroff. This left gaps in Montreal’s usual play that they had to adjust to. Lastly, netminder Charline Labonte had an uncharacteristically mediocre performance.
There is little cause for concern though. Labonte bounced back from this loss and stole the next game for Montreal. The Clarkson Cup final will – *knock on wood* – feature a full Canadiennes roster. Additionally, Montreal has had two weeks since the first playoff round to practice and plan a better strategy for a Calgary lineup that includes Johnston.
Given their incredible season and past performance against Calgary, Les Canadiennes may very likely be taking the Clarkson Cup back to Montreal on Sunday.