They say there are only two sure things in life: death, and taxes. Though at this point, we can pretty much expand that list to include the dominance of Les Canadiennes de Montreal. After winning 21 of the season’s 24 games, Montreal handily defeated the Toronto Furies in the first round of the Clarkson Cup playoffs, winning in consecutive games and ending the best-of-three series.
Les Canadiennes opened the scoring just over five minutes into the contest. A shot from the outside edge of the left circle was saved by Toronto’s Christina Kessler, but the rebound dropped directly in front of the net. Two Montreal forwards poked away at the puck, unhindered, before Caroline Oullette buried it behind Kessler.
Aside from a few rushes by Furies forward Natalie Spooner, Toronto had trouble leaving their zone for the first ten minutes of the game. Their first shot came at the eight minute mark, and it wasn’t until the Furies took to the power play with 7:06 left in the first that they were able to maintain any pressure.
Even with the man advantage, it was Montreal who had the best chances. Taking advantage of their speed, the defense would chip the puck to center and send the forward in on the breakaway. Les Canadiennes hit two posts while on the penalty kill.
Kessler was solid in the first, but the fast and physical Montreal attack got the better of Toronto, and they’d head into the first intermission with a two goal defecit.
Ouellette scored to open the second period on a tipped shot from Julie Chu. Kessler blockered the puck toward the blue line, where Chu collected it and fired on net. Again, two Montreal forwards got behind the Toronto defense.
A minute later, Montreal headed to the power play. Another flurry in front of the net had Kessler making save after save, but when the puck came glove side and the pack of players, including Kessler, were jumbled on the opposite side. Chu jumped on the loose puck, and though Kessler came across cleanly, a downed Oulette appeared to push her pad enough to put the netminder out of position.
Down by four, Toronto’s frustration grew, and the physical nature of the game intensified. Eventually, this led to another Montreal power play, and Montreal converted, as Chu scored her second and chased Kessler, who was replaced by Sonja van der Bliek.
After teams traded penalties, Toronto finally got on the board when Alyssa Baldin broke into the zone. Baldin looked pass, and as goaltender Charlene Labonte dropped to play the pass, Baldin popped a shot just under the crossbar for Toronto’s first tally.
The third period was ultimately a formality. Montreal scored two more goals – one by Poulin and one by Lauriane Rougeau. Les Canadiennes demonstrated throughout the season that they are in a league of their own, and this series against Toronto is just another example of their superior talent.
Although the series was nothing short of a blowout, Toronto emerged with some positives to build on in the future. Kessler played very well, despite the scoreboard’s tale of destruction. Natalie Spooner is a world class talent, and though she may try to do too much on her own, she certainly has the ability to change a game in a single possession of a puck. Baldin is a quite a savvy player, whose skill may be a bit buried on a team that is a few players short of being a contender.
Les Canadiennes will travel to Ottawa for the Clarkson Cup final series to take on the winner of the Brampton Thunder/Calgary Inferno matchup. At the time of writing, Calgary leads the series 1-0. If there is any hope for the team that will face Montreal, it is that they suffered all three of their four on the road, so the neutral-site championship may just work to their opponent’s advantage.