Marie-Philip Poulin scored in the first period, and Charline Labonté made 18 saves as Les Canadiennes found themselves back on the winning track with a 2-0 victory over the Toronto Furies Saturday afternoon at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.
Poulin’s goal would come 12:54 into the first period. Sophie Brault would keep the puck in at the blue line and get it to Poulin, who worked a magnificent give and go with Ann-Sophie Bettez. Poulin would snap a shot from the slot, a spot she doesn’t miss from.
“It was a great play made by Ann-Sophie, and lucky enough it got the crowd going,” said Poulin. “Getting the early goal against them, especially after the last two games we played against them that we lost, we wanted to start in a good way.”
The game had an intensity of a playoff game. It was a well played game from both sides, and one that had its physical moments, including this scrum as the final buzzer sounded. The two teams faced off in last year’s best-of-three semi-final and although a repeat matchup is unlikely, there are some intense rivalries in the CWHL.
Toronto would have their opportunities. In the first period, Carolyne Prevost would find Jonelle Kohanchuk who fired it just wide past Labonté, and a few minutes later, Carlee Campbell would wire a shot right off the post.
Even though she only had to make 18 saves, most of those saves were on some prime chances, either breakaways or odd-player rushes, including Natalie Spooner breaking in shorthanded in the final minute of the first period and a two-on-zero rush with Kelly Terry breaking in alone with Prevost. Both times, Labonté stood tall.
“The thing about playing against the Furies, they’re so good, they’re so consistent that maybe they don’t get many shots but when they do get chances they’re good ones,” said Labonté. “Spooner gets a breakaway, two-on-ones, they definitely have players who can put the puck on net.”
Montreal would think that they doubled their lead with under seven minutes to go in the second period. Leslie Oles shot would be stopped by Toronto goaltender Christina Kessler, but Emmanuelle Blais would put in the rebound. However, it was ruled that the puck was kicked in, and was disallowed.
Despite the game being shown on Sportsnet, the referees do not have access to any video review, and replays showed that even though the puck did go off of Blais’s skate, there wasn’t really a kicking motion. Her skate was simply moving forward with the rest of her body.
Either way, it remained 1-0.
No goal. Puck went in off a skate. pic.twitter.com/UAG7pFlR4K— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) February 4, 2017
Kessler did play very well for Toronto, making several huge saves throughout the game, including this one on Karell Emard, who would have several chances throughout the game. In all, she made 27 saves, and only allowed one goal. Montreal’s second goal would go into an empty net.
“Kessler was amazing on the other side. She was the reason that the game was so close,” Labonté said. “She made some really, really good saves and I was watching like ‘dammit Kess, let us score!’”
The subtext to this game was Caroline Ouellette. Ouellette is tied with Jayna Hefford for the most goals in CWHL history, and every time that she stepped onto the ice, there was an added hum from the huge crowd in Brossard.
Ouellette would not get the goal she needed, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t have opportunities. With just over five minutes remaining in the second period, Sarah Lefort, Bettez, and Ouellette would break in on a 3-on-1.
Bettez would create a turnover at the Toronto blue line, and feed Lefort, who would get the puck across the ice to Ouellette but Kessler came across and made an incredible save in one of the most difficult situations any goaltender could face.
Christina Kessler is on fire! This time she denies Ouellette's 131st goal. pic.twitter.com/L4yLRD5hpX— Women's Hockey Gifs (@CWHLHighlights) February 4, 2017
With 1:40 to go, Emard would put the puck into the empty net from the right corner. Ouellette would also get an opportunity with the empty net but her shot from the other side of centre ice went wide.
The two teams play Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. It will be Montreal’s final home game of the regular season.
They will host the CWHL semi-final the weekend of February 24. Exact location and times are to be announced, and their opponent and the format is to be confirmed as well. Last year was a best-of-three series with games set for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday if necessary.
Some of the jerseys that Les Canadiennes wore in warmup and in the first period on Saturday are still available for auction to benefit the Cedars Breast Clinic. You can still bid on select items, like Marie-Philip Poulin, Caroline Ouellette and Labonté’s jerseys here.