Valentine's Day weekend could have been a little bit sweeter to the Inferno, especially considering it marked their last home series of the CWHL regular season.
Instead, they got a matchup with the Blades, a team that took two of three games last time they played each other and did the same this past weekend, this time at Winsport. The series between them this season now stands at 2-2-2, and with two games in hand, Boston could take first place over Calgary if it wins three of its remaining four games against Brampton and Montreal.
Calgary held on for a 4-3 win Friday night on the strength of goals by four different players. Jessica Wong got the scoring started at the tail end of a hardworking shift, capitalizing on a takeaway in Boston's zone to give the Inferno a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
The Blades and Inferno traded goals throughout the second period. Jordan Smelker's two goals erased leads created by Wong and Jenna Cunningham, then Brianna Decker gave the Blades a brief 3-2 lead just eleven seconds after notching her second assist of the game on Smelker's second tying goal. (Each of Smelker's goals came after a hard shot by Decker created a rebound opportunity.) Rebecca Johnston's individual effort down low led to another tying goal, this time on the wraparound, and Danielle Stone finished things off after Wong caught her all alone in front of Brittany Ott. The Inferno spent much of their time in Boston's zone and Delayne Brian made seven saves in the third (25 overall) to preserve the win.
Saturday's game saw the same goal-trading throughout, except much of the scoring came in the third period as Bailey Bram twice scored goals to give the Inferno a lead, only to see it vanish on tallies by Smelker and Blake Bolden. An exciting overtime (during which the Inferno pressured Genevieve Lacasse throughout) led to a shootout, which Casey Pickette and Blake Bolden scored in to win over the Inferno, 4-3.
The Blades completely dictated the tempo Sunday, outshooting the Inferno 38-21 in the game and letting Decker shine in a 4-1 victory for Boston. I'd stated in my preview of this weekend that Decker is a fast, strong player with plenty of offensive creativity, and that was certainly the case throughout the weekend. She tallied six points against Calgary, including two goals in the final game to put it out of reach after Brittany Esposito's shorthanded goal late in the second period foiled shutout hopes for Ott. Calgary's special teams were a bit disastrous; they went 0-6 and even allowed a shorthanded goal by Corinne Buie, as well as a power-play tally by Decker.
This weekend could be a precursor of things to come in the Clarkson Cup final, and let's face it -- it would be entertaining. These are two well-matched teams with speed, depth and dangerous offensive weapons who are plenty familiar with each other from Olympic days (Bram and Johnston on one, Knight and Decker on the other).
However, the Inferno did seem to let frustration get to them, as evidenced by the lengthy penalty sheet in the final two games. They played at their best when they stayed out of the box in the first game, taking just one penalty in three periods -- and as you can see, it paid off with a regulation win. In contrast, Bolden's tying goal on Saturday was on the power play, as was the nail in the coffin by Decker on Sunday. The Inferno also have the league's second-worst PK at 79 percent, so it would certainly behoove them to keep the game clean and focus on what they do best -- score. On the bright side, Wong played very well, providing scoring depth from the blueline, and the Inferno did get terrific goaltending from Brian over two of the three games (she faced 66 shots, 34 alone in the Sunday game). Rookie Camille Trautman also played admirably in the shootout loss (33 saves).
The Inferno are off next weekend and finish their season in Brampton Feb. 28 and March 1. Stay tuned for some more info on the Clarkson Cup and some scenarios to watch out for as all five teams wrap up the regular season.
Notes: The Inferno raised over $1600 in Friday's game for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta in their "Inferno Keep the Beat" fundraiser... also, check out this video on the CWHL via Sportsnet, which features Calgary's Jacquie Pierri and head coach Kevin Haller, as well as league commissioner Brenda Andress, Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser and former CWHLer turned men's hockey goalie Shannon Szabados. It's great stuff from everyone involved.