The Inferno threw 31 shots at Charline Labonte and she stopped them all -- some in acrobatic fashion -- as the Stars rolled to a 2-0 win and swept round one of the Clarkson Cup in Markham.
Emmanuelle Blais kicked off the scoring late in the first period, catching Aina Takeuchi mid-slide and firing a shot through the five-hole of Delayne Brian. Then late in the second, Kim Deschenes found Marieve Provost all alone near the hashmarks of Calgary's zone, and Provost fired a shot over Brian's shoulder for the second goal of the game.
That was all Montreal needed, as Calgary was stifled by the Stars' D and by Labonte herself. Montreal did an excellent job of protecting its goaltender, collapsing in front of the net, clearing out bodies and rebounds, and supporting each other when Calgary's forwards attempted to lose the defensemen covering them. They also blocked nearly as many shots as the Inferno got onto net. All of this combined led to many of Calgary's shots coming from the outside, allowing Labonte to see them the entire way. The power play was also ineffective, going 0-for-5.
The frustration was palpable, particularly on the sequence leading up to the Stars' second goal and in the third period. Sarah Davis threw a shot on net and Labonte stopped it with the pad, allowing a rebound that fell right on Louise Warren's stick. With Labonte out of position, Warren (and everyone watching, including the Sportsnet telecasters) thought she had a gimme -- but Labonte lunged to her left, grabbing Warren's stuff attempt with her glove (and proving why she's the league's top goaltender). Moments later, Provost had scored the Stars's second goal. Meanwhile, in the third, the Inferno tried frantically in the dying moments of the game to at least score one goal on Labonte, but nothing hit the back of the net.
This game was certainly tough to watch, considering the Inferno were doing most things right on offense. I say "most" because while they did try their best to spread out and get lanes open, they also could have done things better. Their power play stood still and was hesitant to jump into the play at times. Also, the Stars certainly did their homework on Rebecca Johnston, because she was hounded all game and unable to make many trips to the front of the net. Part of me felt as though she was trying to do a little too much -- there were a couple of occasions where she had a point open for a pass, but elected to shoot or try to deke around the defense. But when you're the league's leading scorer and a world-class forward, I suppose it's normal to try and do everything yourself, especially when your playoff lives are on the line. Overall, I felt just as frustrated watching as I'm sure the Inferno's forwards did trying to play.
All of this said, however, the Inferno have made great strides this year. Watching them has been a ton of fun, and as they head back to Calgary, they can do so knowing they have nothing to be ashamed of. They have a solid core of young, talented players with roots in strong hockey programs, and while some areas need work, I think they'll come back stronger next year, provided they have a healthy Haley Irwin and other key pieces of the offense.
I'll have a more in-depth look at what can be learned from this season after the Clarkson Cup Final, which will be aired at noon MST on Saturday (that's 2 p.m. EST) on Sportsnet One. Remember, you can also watch online if you have the Clarkson Cup streaming package (costs $10 CAD/$8 USD). If you're in the U.S. and missed Thursday's games, check them out Friday morning on NHL Network at 8 and 9 a.m. MST (10 and 11 a.m. EST). The championship game will also be re-aired Sunday at 9 a.m. MST (11 a.m. EST) on NHLN in the U.S. Also, if you're watching, join the CWHL Viewing Party via Chatzy.
Boston 7, Toronto 2: A 2-2 first period turned into a 7-3 final for the Blades as Hilary Knight scored a hat trick and five points and Janine Weber had two goals. Monique Lamoureux also had three assists on the afternoon as the top line tore through the Furies' defense and lit up Christina Kessler for five of their goals before she was pulled in the third for Sami Jo Small. Megan Bozek, Tessa Bonhomme and Tanis Lamoureux scored for Toronto, who unfortunately will not have a chance to defend their title from last season. Brittany Ott made 18 saves for Boston, while Kessler stopped 21 and Small, 14. This was a rough-and-tumble kind of game as well, as the two teams combined for 28 penalty minutes (12 in the first period alone). Boston and Montreal will face off in the Clarkson Cup Final as two squads who already have decorated histories as the top in the league. Who will it be this year? We'll find out Saturday.