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CWHL Playoff Preview: Les Canadiennes vs Brampton Thunder

The best of three semifinal gets underway Friday night

Shanna Martin/Eyes On The Prize

The second place Canadiennes will host the third place Brampton Thunder in a best-of-three series, all of which will be played on home ice. While Montreal may have the statistical advantage in the standings, these two clubs aren’t that far apart talent wise.

For the second straight season, Les Canadiennes captain Marie-Philip Poulin led the league’s scoring race, finishing the season with 37 points in 23 games, winning the Angela James Bowl. What was different this season though, was that she has to share the title with Thunder forward Jess Jones, who also had 37 points this season.

“Jess Jones has had a fantastic year,” said Caroline Ouellette. “She’s a very smart player. She has a way of finding herself in great spots to finish great goals so we have to make sure we keep an eye on her.”

While Jones’ offensive output this season is impressive in and of itself, Brampton’s strength lies mostly on their back end. Led by Laura Fortino, defender of the year last season (and nominee this season), the Thunder have one of the deepest blue lines in the league. Bolstered by Fortino, Jocelyne Larocque, and Courtney Birchard, it’s tough to sustain offensive zone time against Brampton. That’s something they’ll have to rely on if they want to beat Montreal and punch their ticket to the Clarkson Cup final.

“We need to adjust our forecheck,” said Montreal head coach Dany Brunet. “They have an agile defence with speed so we need to bring some adjustments and try to create turnovers and scoring chances in the offensive zone.”

“They’re really hard to play against,” said Poulin. “We know every time we cross that red line it won’t be easy to get in their zone. We know we have to use our speed. We know we have to put the puck deep and put pressure on them... We know what they’re capable of.”

In addition to being strong on the back end, the Thunder are notorious for being the toughest team in the league.

“We know they’re also a physical team, so we can’t back down in the corners,” said rookie Sarah Lefort. “Coming out with the puck is going to be huge this weekend.”

Perhaps it’s that physical play that led to the Thunder finding themselves in the penalty box this season. Brampton was the most penalized team in the league, with 315 penalty minutes.

That’s something Brampton will want to shore up in the semifinals, as Montreal led the league on the powerplay this season, operating at 24.7% efficiency. Poulin is no stranger to big games, and knows just how important special teams will be in this series.

Shanna Martin / Eyes on the Prize

On the other side, the last time Brampton came to Montreal, all six of their goals were scored on the power play.

“Every time you have a chance to have a powerplay, you want to capitalize,” she said. “For sure we’re going to have to take advantage.”

The puck drops on game one at Etienne-Desmarteau Arena at 7:20 PM Game two will be at the Complexe Bell in Brossard at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and if necessary game three will be at 1:30 on Sunday, also at the Complexe Bell. Tickets are available at the door for $20 or online here.

Series at a Glance

Season Series:
Oct 15, 2016: MONTREAL 5 @ BRAMPTON 2
Oct 16, 2016: MONTREAL 3 @ BRAMPTON 2
Nov 26, 2016: BRAMPTON 3 @ MONTREAL 4 (OT)
Nov 27, 2016: BRAMPTON 3 @ MONTREAL 2 (OT)
Jan 28, 2017: MONTREAL 5 @ BRAMPTON 1
Jan 29, 2017: MONTREAL 2 @ BRAMPTON 4

Power Play
Montreal: 24.7% (22/89)
Brampton: 20.2% (19/94)

Penalty Kill
Montreal: 85.4% (13/89)
Brampton: 81.8% (18/99)

Head to Head
Laura Fortino (BRA) 6 GP, 3 G, 5 A
Laura Stacey (BRA) 6 GP, 2 G, 5 A
Jess Jones (BRA) 6 GP, 3 G, 3 A
Courtney Birchard (BRA) 4 GP, 1 G, 5 A
Jamie Lee Rattray (BRA) 6 GP, 2 G, 3 A

Erica Howe (BRA) 4GP 2-1, 2.16 GAA, 0.925%
Liz Knox (BRA) 3GP 0-3, 4.71 GAA, 0.866%

Marie-Philip Poulin (MTL) 6 GP, 2 G, 9 A
Caroline Ouellette (MTL) 6 GP, 4 G, 3 A
Ann-Sophie Bettez (MTL) 6 GP, 4 G, 2 A
Cathy Chartrand (MTL) 6 GP, 2 G, 3 A
Sarah Lefort (MTL) 6 GP, 4 G, 0 A

Charline Labonté (MTL) 6 GP 4-2, 2.30 GAA, 0.915%