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Les Canadiennes sweep Inferno, take sole possession of first place

Montreal caps successful weekend to leapfrog Calgary in the standings

Shanna Martin

Marie-Philip Poulin scored in the opening minute of each of the second and third periods and Charline Labonté made 21 saves as Les Canadiennes (16-2-0) beat the Calgary Inferno (14-4-2) 3-1 at the Etienne-Desmarteau Arena on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday's win over the Inferno marked the team's ninth straight win dating back to their last loss, in Brampton, on December 12. During the streak, they have beaten every team in the league by a total margin of 39-6.

But this weekend's games, against the team that held the league's top spot and was the pre-season favourite, did have a higher importance for the team.

"It's huge," said Labonté. "We knew we were fighting for top spot. In my opinion, it was the two top teams playing against each other and to get the four points is good for our confidence and it's good for the end of the year."

"You never take anyone lightly, whether it's Calgary, Boston, Toronto or Brampton," Labonté continued. "In the end what matters is getting the two points."

"We want to be the best," said Poulin. "It may mean that teams will come at us harder but we want that and we're prepared for that pressure."

Montreal holds top spot despite having played less games than any other team in the league. Their six remaining games see them facing third place Brampton (14-5-0) next weekend at home before a rematch in Calgary February 13-14 and then they close the regular season at home against Boston (1-19-0) February 20-21.

"There's still a lot of work we need to do," Labonté said. "January is usually when we get better and work together as a team. The results were good this weekend but there's still things we need to improve to get the Cup at the end."

For the second straight day, the first period was scoreless but Montreal had scoring chances.

The top two lines of Caroline OuelletteKatia Clement-Heydra and Noémie Marin and Ann-Sophie BettezKim Deschênes and Poulin were dominant and the third line of Emmanuelle BlaisJordanna Peroff and Leslie Oles also had great chances. Each time, Calgary goaltender Delayne Brian was up to the task. She also got some help from the post on a Ouellette wrist shot.

But, in the first minute of the second, Montreal's quick strike offence came to life. Twenty seconds into the first, Poulin fired a wrist shot past Brian after a flurry of activity. On the next shift, 21 seconds later, Ouellette doubled the lead when she fired a shot from a bad angle past a sprawling Brian.

Just 41 seconds into the second period, Les Canadiennes led 2-0.

Poulin would score her fourth goal of the weekend, and league-leading 17th of the season, just 23 seconds into the third to open up a 3-0 lead. Poulin now has 30 points in her 16 games played this year. Linemate Bettez had four points, including assists on both of Poulin's goals on Sunday, and is second in the league with 29 points.

"I was playing with [Bettez] before the All-Star break so we had chemistry, and with [Poulin], she's the best player in the world so it's easy to play with her," said Deschênes, who also assisted on both of Poulin's goals.

Calgary would get their only goal from Jenna Cunningham who was playing her 100th career CWHL game. She broke in on a breakaway and beat Labonté with just over three minutes remaining in the third.

Cunningham appeared to be offside on the play, a point that Canadiennes head coach Dany Brunet tried to make to the referee but to no avail.

Les Canadiennes now focus on their next two games against Brampton where they may be able to clinch a home playoff series. Saturday's game will be at the Boisbriand Arena and Sunday will be at the Complexe Bell in Brossard. Both arenas hold less than their home arena at Etienne-Desmarteau so be sure to show up early to ensure a spot.