The CWHL’s Calgary Inferno are kicking off their quest for a second Clarkson Cup Championship tonight! After a dominant regular season that saw the Inferno be the first team to clinch a playoff spot and clinch home ice, Calgary captured the Chairman’s Trophy for the regular season championship with a 23 Win - 47 Point finish. As the number one seeded team, they’ll host the fourth place Toronto Furies in the Clarkson Cup Playoffs’ first round Best-Of-3 Series. We’ve compiled a tale-of-the-tape for the series before the puck gets dropped in Game One tonight!
NOV 17: Calgary 7 @ Toronto 4
NOV 18: Calgary 3 @ Toronto 2
DEC 15: Toronto 4 @ Calgary 1
DEC 15: Toronto 0 @ Calgary 6
JAN 12: Toronto 1 @ Calgary 4
JAN 13: Toronto 3 @ Calgary 0
In four of their six meetings this season the Inferno came away victorious, which is not entirely unexpected considering the nineteen point deficit between the two clubs. And speaking of deficits, in their four wins Calgary outscored the Furies by a whopping 20-7 margin overall. The saving grace from Toronto’s side of things is that in the two victories they managed were both on the road. That might become a factor seeing as all games of this series will be hosted by the Inferno, so the Furies can be confident they know how to win at Winsport. In those victories, Toronto was also defensively sound, allowing only one goal over that 120 minute span including a 3-0 shutout in their last meeting. This series very much shapes up to be a contest of high scoring home-dominance against shut-down road prowess.
The offensive advantage in the series is certainly CGY’s, lead by their captain and the CWHL’s 3rd-leading point getter Rebecca Johnston. She enters the series as the player with the single highest point-per-game pace on either team at 1.44 PPG, and the highest ranked player in the league Top Ten scoring race on either team. Two other Inferno players finished in the top ten race, as team goals leader Brianne Jenner wound up at 5th powered by her 19 goals, and Brianna Decker wound up in the 10 spot with 26 points. Only two Furies players finished that high in league scoring, as Natalie Spooner and Sarah Nurse wound up back-to-back at 8th & 9th. CGY finished second in goals-for overall at 111, winding up with a +57 goals differential, while TOR scored just over half that many with 64 on a -13 goals differential.
Calgary’s goaltending had an excellent season lead by Alex Rigsby, who picked up 14 wins and 2 losses and finished with the league’s third best GAA at 2.04. The league leader in goals against average this season was Rigsby’s rookie backup Annie Belanger at 1.39, who had 8 wins and 1 loss with 4 shutouts, one of which was in a 21 save performance to blank the Furies. While Belanger was the statistically better netminder, we’d expect Rigsby to carry the load in these playoffs.
Toronto saw mostly splits in the blue paint, between Shea Tiley and Elaine Chuli. Tiley picked up only one win against the Inferno this season, a monster 50 save performance in a 4-1 final. Chuli had a 7-7 record on the season and picked up a pair of shutouts along the way, one of which was a 29 saver in their final meeting with the Inferno in a 3-0 win.
On paper and in execution, the advantage was absolutely Calgary’s this season. However, both teams are coming in hot down the stretch, CGY with an 8-2-0 record in their last ten, and TOR with a 7-3 record in their last ten to grab that final Clarkson Cup playoffs spot. Both squads are also riding five game winning streaks into this first round playoff series. Indeed it might come down to how well Toronto can get back to their tight defensive game that allowed them to steal a pair of road games in Alberta, or if the Inferno will continue to run a high-octane offense to success.
As the hosts, all first round games will be held at Winsport Arena A. Game One goes tonight at 8:00, while Game Two will be tomorrow night at 6:45. If necessary, Game Three will be Sunday at 12:00.
Check back with Matchsticks & Gasoline after the weekend for all the insight and analysis on our Ladies In Red’s chase for the Clarkson Cup!