The new-look Canadiennes can mark their opening weekend as a success, as they skated away with a 5-3 victory over the Boston Blades in Sunday afternoon’s matchup to sweep their season-opening series.
The Blades certainly gave Montreal a run for their money through the second and third periods, bringing a four-goal deficit down to one through the latter 40 minutes of the game, but Les Canadiennes’ team play helped the defending Clarkson Cup champions skate away with the victory.
“It’s a new year, new team, we have different players, so we need to do the small things to be successful,” said Canadiennes veteran, Cathy Chartrand, who was the first star of the game with a goal and an assist. “It shows that even though we changed a few players, we’re still able to win as a team.”
Storming the gate with the momentum from their win over the Blades less than 24 hours prior, Les Canadiennes dictated the pace of the game early on, coming at the visiting squad in waves, as all four Montreal lines kept Boston hemmed in their zone for shifts at a time, with next to no reprieve.
Peppered with shots through the opening minutes of the first, Lauren Dahm stood tall to turn aside puck after puck from the goal hungry Canadiennes, but it wouldn’t be long before Montreal was finally able to hammer a crack into the Blades’ armour. With Boston’s Jordan Hampton serving a minor penalty for hooking just a little over five minutes into the game, Kim Deschênes netted a pass from newcomer Natalie Barrette for her first goal of the season.
Montreal was sent back to the power play minutes later when Megan Myers was called for holding, and wasted no time in taking a two-goal lead as Cathy Chartrand and Cassandra Poudrier set up Noémie Marin a mere 18 seconds later.
And it all seemed to unravel from there.
A turnover in the neutral zone powered up Ann-Sophie Bettez on a two-on-one with linemate Katia Clement-Heydra, and their East-West play proved too hot to handle for Lauren Dahm, who couldn’t slide across the crease in time to make the save on Clement-Heydra’s shot.
Then Chartrand scored her first goal of the season with the help of Erinn Noseworthy and Tracy-Ann Lavigne to give their team a 4-0 lead less than 30 seconds after the Clement-Heydra goal. It looked like the final nail was hammered into Boston’s coffin with 46 minutes still to go.
Then in stepped Jetta Rackleff to settled things down.
Coming in Dahm’s relief with 6:15 remaining in the first period, Rackleff’s presence was enough to calm a scrambling team, and shift the momentum in favour of the Blades.
Though Boston was unable to capitalize on two Montreal penalties to close out the period, the Blades skated into the second period with a level of intensity that matched that of their Montreal counterpart’s opening 20.
Frenzied in their own zone with multiple turnovers at the blue line that proved to be Catherine Herron and Les Canadiennes’ first challenge of the game, Laurence Beaulieu’s holding penalty came at just the right time for the Boston Blades to finally answer a four-goal deficit.
While Herron made the first save on a bouncing puck in front of the net, she was unable to cover up the rebound, and Melissa Bizzari passed to Kate Leary to get their team on the board.
Just 1:33 later, when Montreal’s Kayla Tutino was sent off on a tripping call, Boston’s quick setup and net-front traffic allowed Kristina Brown to sneak a second puck past Herron to make it 4-2 Canadiennes with plenty of hockey left to play.
As Boston found their legs, both teams would get chances at either end of the ice, but it was Rackleff who shined bright to make several key saves through the latter half of the period.
Ninety seconds into the third period, Bizzari came looking for a goal of her own, but her one-timer dinged off the base of the post. Lucky for Boston, they wouldn’t need to wait long before they could come within a single goal as Chelsey Goldberg beat Herron’s blocker after the rebound bounced to the blade of her stick.
Boston maintained a steady hand on the pressure following their third goal of the day, but Herron, stayed sharp to keep Boston from following up with the equalizer.
“They were playing with a lot of momentum at some points and not at all in others, but we had to know that they were coming back at some point,” said Herron who saved 17/20 shots she faced. “They came out really, really strong in the last two periods. It’s the question of focusing and trying to keep things simple, and going one save at a time.”
But that didn’t mean Montreal went without their chances. Les Canadiennes just could not beat Rackleff. She saved all 33 shots she faced after entering the game, including two great chances by rookies Noseworthy and Lavigne.
“It’s a message that goes down the bench. We want to grind, and start with little things,” said Chartrand. “We just need little things to win the battles. If we win every single, little battle, then we’re gonna break out and gain the momentum back.”
With under 30 seconds to go, Kayla Tutino scored an empty-net goal to seal Montreal’s second straight win.
“This was the first two games actually together as a real team,” said Herron. “It was really important for us to get a good start to the season, to set our structure as a team.”
Les Canadiennes will have next weekend off. They will then face the Markham Thunder in their new home, who moved from Brampton, in their first matchup since eliminating the Ontario club in the 2017 Clarkson Cup Playoffs.