This year's playoff race came down to the very last game, when the Toronto Furies won their fifth straight contest to secure the final berth in a tie-breaker over the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays (the first tie-break was regulation and overtime wins).
Throughout the week, the Calgary Inferno swept the Rays despite two very tight matches, Toronto swept the Worcester Blades, Les Canadiennes de Montréal split with the Markham Thunder, and the Furies beat Markham in their final game. The Inferno's sweep over Shenzhen secured them the Chairman's Trophy as regular season champions.
The semifinals will run March 8, 9, and (if needed) 10, with Calgary hosting the Furies and Montreal hosting Markham for the third consecutive year.
Around the League
- Jill Saulnier is organizing a charity hockey game to raise funds for the Barho family, a family of Syrian refugees in Halifax whose seven children died in a tragic overnight house fire on February 19. (A GoFundMe in support of the family has also been set up.)
- Marie-Philip Poulin clinched the Angela James Bowl as the CWHL's 2018-19 scoring leader with 50 points in 26 games.
- Les Canadiennes have raised over $16,000 in support of the Cedars Breast Clinic at their ninth annual Pink in the Rink game; the online portion of the fundraising auction remains open.
- Marie-Soleil Deschênes was named Goalie of the Week for February 16-17.
- Ailish Forfar (Markham Thunder) and Kaitlin Willoughby (Calgary Inferno) were named to Team Canada for the upcoming FISU Universiade in Krasnoyarsk, Russia; both players will miss the CWHL semifinals.
- The CWHL announced that the 2019 CWHL Awards will take place on March 22 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, hosted by Caroline Cameron; the Toronto Marlies announced that their game on March 24 will be postponed by an hour to 5 PM in order to better accommodate the Clarkson Cup Final, which starts at noon.
Calgary Inferno vs. Shenzhen Vanke Rays
Rebecca Johnston had a goal and an assist on Tuesday as Calgary defeated Shenzhen 2-1 in the first of a three-game series in China.
Johnston opened the scoring 5:44 into the game, and Katelyn Gosling doubled the advantage with 1:03 left in the frame.
Emma Woods brought the Rays within one at 7:14 of the second, but it proved to be the last goal of the night.
Both sides were perfect on six penalty kills.
Shot counts have yet to be updated for this series; Alex Rigsby was in net for the Inferno and Noora Räty tended goal for Shenzhen for all three games.
Brianne Jenner scored two goals, including the overtime winner, as Calgary claimed a 4-3 win thanks to a massive late-game comeback on Friday.
Alex Carpenter scored the first goal at 16:10 of the first, and Hannah Miller added to the lead at 3:17 of the second.
Johnston got the Inferno on the board 2:42 into the third, Gosling tied things up at 7:34, and Jenner forced a shorthanded turnover to make it 3-2 at 10:48. Cayley Mercer then evened the mark at 17:46 to force overtime.
Jenner scored again 1:08 into the extra session to give her team the win.
Calgary was 0-for-4 with the extra attacker and killed off five infractions.
Melanie Jue had two goals in a losing effort as the Inferno wrapped up their season with a 4-3 victory on Saturday.
Blayre Turnbull opened the scoring at 8:22 of the first, but Hannah Bunton replied with a power-play tally at 11:50 and an even-strength marker less that three minutes later to put the Rays ahead.
Jenner tied things up 1:57 into the second, but Rachel Llanes put Shenzhen back in front with a power-play goal at 15:19.
Zoe Hickel evened the score once again 1:56 into the third, and Gosling buried the game-winner on the power play just past the midway mark, making Calgary the second team (after Montreal) to sweep its road trip in Shenzhen.
The Inferno were 1-for-5 on the power play and 4-for-6 on the kill.
Calgary closes its regular season as winner of the Chairman's Trophy with a 23-4-1 record, while the Rays finished 13-13-2 and missed playoffs after a tie-break.
Worcester Blades vs. Toronto Furies
Sarah Nurse had a goal and an assist on Saturday as the Furies defeated the Blades, 5-1.
Nurse opened the scoring just 62 seconds after puck drop, and Carolyne Prévost added a power-play marker, banging in a rebound at 15:46.
Neither team found the back of the net in the second period. Meghan Grieves brought Worcester within one 1:13 into the third, but Natalie Spooner restored the two-goal gap on the powerplay just ahead of the halfway point, before Brittany Howard and Emily Fulton helped Toronto pull away.
The Furies were 2-for-4 with the extra attacker and killed off six penalties.
Elaine Chuli turned away 22 of 23 shots, while Jessica Convery saved 27 of 32.
Howard had a goal and assist of her own on Sunday as Toronto claimed a 4-1 win.
Mackenzie MacNeil got things started 2:08 in, and Carlee Campbell tapped in a cross-crease pass from Howard about a minute-and-a-half later. Spooner scored shorthanded just past the midway mark of the period to put the Furies up 3-0.
Howard's goal came at 8:42 of the second, before Kaitlin Spurling rounded out the game by getting the Blades on the scoresheet at 17:37.
Lauren Dahm replaced Convery to start the third and posted an 11-save shut-out in a goalless period.
Toronto was 0-for-4 on the power play and perfect through five kills.
Shea Tiley made 20 saves on 21 chances, while Convery stopped 24 of 28 chances in the opening 40 minutes.
Worcester wraps up the season with an 0-28-0 record.
Markham Thunder vs. Les Canadiennes de Montréal
Marie-Philip Poulin and Ann-Sophie Bettez each earned a pair of points as Les Canadiennes defeated Markham 2-1 on Saturday in Montreal's ninth annual Pink in the Rink game.
"It's such a nice event for me; it hits home," said associate coach Caroline Ouellette, who helped found the event as a player. "I told the girls before the match, it's always one of my favourite games. With Meg, Lisa-Marie and I, we launched the idea to have a Pink in the Rink game to support the fight against breast cancer. My aunt is a survivor, as is Lisa-Marie's mother, so to see that it's our ninth year and we've raised over $100,000... It's always a game that's moving for me and that I'm excited to be a part of, and it was great to see such a good crowd to support us tonight."
After a fairly messy opening period, Victoria Bach netted a rebound at 2:51 of the second. Mélodie Daoust evened it up at 13:47, tipping in a shot from Poulin while on the power play, and Jill Saulnier scored the game winner with 31 seconds left in the frame, shooting home a beautiful feed from Bettez, who was behind the goal after winning a footrace to claim the puck in deep.
"The message was to come back to the game plan," explained Poulin. "There was a lot going on before the match, and I think we got away from it a little. So we had to come back and play tighter, make quicker passes, have more net-front presence, and I think that's what we did in the second and third."
Montreal was 1-for-4 on the power play and killed off two penalties.
Emerance Maschmeyer turned away 17 of 18 shots, while Erica Howe stopped 39 of 41.
Howe made 30 saves as the Thunder clinched their playoff spot with a 3-2 win on Sunday.
"We wanted to get it done today; the earlier the better," said Jamie Lee Rattray. "We showed a lot of character today. We played a good team game -- a couple mistakes, but I think we grinded it out in the end there and it was pretty fun to win that one."
Jess Jones opened the scoring, banging in a loose puck at 2:55 of the second after a bobble in the crease. About halfway through the game, Poulin got tangled up along the boards and, according to Ouellette, had her skate stuck in the ice as she fell. She immediately went to the bench, and spent several minutes in obvious pain before eventually heading to the dressing room without putting weight on her left knee. Shortly after Poulin went off, Rattray doubled the advantage off a feed from Laura Stacey, at 16:00.
"We don't think it's as bad as it looked," Ouellette said of Poulin's injury. "We're going to re-evaluate day-to-day, but she should be back in two weeks, no problem."
Stacey went glove-side off the rush at 9:03 of the third to put the visitors ahead 3-0. Montreal responded with an immediate offensive outburst, with Hilary Knight slipping the puck under Howe's pads from in close at 9:30 and Bettez launching a swift shot top shelf while rushing full-speed up the wing 17 seconds after that. Les Canadiennes dominated the rest of the game, but couldn't manage to tie it up.
"We told them it was a great opportunity to show each other what they were made of, a great character test," said Ouellette of the late-game comeback effort. "That was exactly the message: we need to start the game the way we played in the third, with that sense of urgency, winning races, winning battles, connecting passes tape to tape. And they know. They knew that they weren't good enough for 60 minutes to win."
"Today I'd say we played 20 minutes intensely without giving them a sniff to think they could win," echoed Karell Emard. "They barely even touched the puck in the third, and that's how we need to play all the time."
Both sides were 0-for-1 on the power play.
Geneviève Lacasse stopped 18 of 21 shots.
Montreal finishes the regular season in second place with a 21-6-1 record. Markham will return to face Les Canadiennes in the semifinals, in a repeat of both this weekend and last year's playoffs.
"It's always pretty fun when we come here," Rattray offered. "The crowd's pretty fun, and we always have good battles against them. They're a great hockey team, and any time you get to battle against them and play well and even win, like today, it's a ton of fun. I don't think it gets much better than that, and it'll be a lot of fun in a couple weeks."
Markham Thunder vs. Toronto Furies
Howard scored the game-winner on Tuesday as the Furies won their fifth straight contest to clinch the fourth and final playoff berth.
After a relatively even opening period, Nurse put Toronto ahead just 19 seconds into the middle frame. Howard then buried a quick shot at 17:06 to make it 2-0 after two.
Prévost netted a power-play marker at 16:20 and although Taylor Woods responded with a goal of her own less than two minutes later, the Furies hung on for the win.
Toronto was 1-for-5 with the extra attacker and killed off two penalties.
Tiley turned away 21 of 22 shots, while Erica Howe stopped 30 of 33.
The Furies wrap up the season with an even 14-14-0 record, while Markham went 13-11-4.
- Markham Thunder (3) vs. Les Canadiennes de Montréal (2) -- March 8 at 7:30 PM Eastern at Place Bell; March 9 at 6:00 PM Eastern at Complexe sportif Bell (streamed); March 10 at 1:30 PM Eastern at Complexe Sportif Bell†
- Toronto Furies (4) vs. Calgary Inferno (1) -- March 8 at 8:00 PM Mountain at Winsport Arena A (streamed); March 9 at 6:45 PM Mountain at Winsport Arena A (streamed); March 10 at 12:00 PM Mountain at Winsport Arena A† (streamed)
† if necessary
(Photo credit: Chris Tanouye/CWHL)