It wasn’t how people thought it would end.
With ten minutes to go in the third period, the Brampton Thunder had tied the game 3-3 and looked like they were ready to complete a comeback which would push the series to three games. The most tightly contested of the two preliminary match ups in the Clarkson Cup playoffs, the Calgary Inferno and the Thunder seemed destined to need three games to determine who would advance to the Final in Ottawa.
Instead, it was Rebecca Johnston, newly returned to the team after an injury kept her off the ice for most of the regular season, who played the hero for Calgary, scoring with seven minutes left in the third to give the Inferno the game-winning goal to clinch the series. Delayne Brian made 30 stops in the victory, while Erica Howe saved 27 shots in her second consecutive loss.
The teams in this series lived and died by the man advantage. While power plays and penalty kills don’t always matter much in games, they played a crucial role for the Inferno and Thunder.
In the two-game series, Brampton had 14 power play opportunities and were unable to convert on any of them. In contrast, Calgary scored three power play goals on nine chances, and that ultimately proved to be the difference in this series for Brampton.
In game one, Brampton got off to a sluggish start, which led to the Inferno tallying first. In game two, the Thunder got off to a much faster start, but it was still the Inferno who got on the board first, thanks to a goal from Meaghan Mikkelson just 2:34 into the contest. The Thunder managed to tie the game up roughly seven minutes later, when Sarah Edney snapped the puck past Delayne Brian on a two-on-one opportunity.
Any momentum the Thunder picked up with the Edney goal evaporated quickly when Calgary scored twice more before the period was over. Bailey Bram scored a beautiful goal on a top-shelf shot from the point to put the Inferno up 2-1, after which Rebecca Vint took an ill-advised penalty to send Brampton to the penalty kill. Just 16 seconds into the power play, Brigitte Lacquette scored off of a feed from Rebecca Johnston to put the Inferno up 3-1. The Thunder were scrambling to finish the first period, which couldn’t end fast enough for Brampton.
Down by two goals, the Thunder looked good in the second period but still couldn’t convert with the extra skater, despite two early attempts, including a brief 5-on-3 situation. After going zero for four on the power play during the middle frame, the Thunder seemed stuck and needed a spark.
Jaimie Lee Rattray almost pulled the Thunder to within a goal, with the puck on her stick and a wide-open net, but just couldn’t make it go. She threw her stick away in frustration.
Just a few seconds later, Courtney Birchard gave Brampton the goal they so desperately needed with a bullet from the point, giving the Thunder new life going into the second intermission. They were down by just a single goal.
The Thunder, looking more and more like their regular-season selves, tied the game up with 10 minutes to go off of a stellar goal by Vint. But the Inferno had other plans, and it was Johnston’s tally at 12:27 of the third period that sealed the deal for the Inferno, giving them the victory and punching their ticket to the Clarkson Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
The Thunder, making the playoffs for the first time in two years, are sure to be back in next year’s postseason. Playing strong hockey during the regular season, they gave the Inferno a tough fight, but in the end, they were burned by their poor special teams play.
The Inferno will face off against Les Canadiennes in a one-game final on March 13 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.