The first-ever meeting between Les Canadiennes and the Kunlun Red Star was decided by the special teams battle. While Montreal failed to score on any of their six power plays, including a five-on-three, Kunlun scored on one of their three and won the game 3-1.
It was not the way the Canadiennes wanted to celebrate their annual game at the Bell Centre, where 5,187 fans watched the game.
“It's a question of attitude,” said Canadiennes head coach Dany Brunet. “Did we want to play [Saturday]? Absolutely. It’s an event. It’s the one time a year we get to play in an arena like this. You have to be able to manage your emotions in game like this and we were not able to do that and it gave us the result that we had.”
“Today through three periods we weren’t able to adapt. Even if we played eight-on-four, I’m not sure we would have any more success.”
“We shouldn’t be surprised,” said Ann-Sophie Bettez. “There’s a lot of talent on the other side. Yes, it’s a new team but they have a lot of experience.”
Kunlun started the game strong, outshooting Montreal early. Liying Yang took advantage of a brief error when two Canadiennes defenders collided, and carried the puck up to fire a shot on Emerance Maschmeyer, who was able to shut the door and keep the game 0-0.
Les Canadiennes were able to hold off a determined Kunlun team forcing them to take a penalty when Madison Woo was called for tripping. While Montreal got chances, the Kunlun penalty kill also managed some good possession. Less than halfway through the penalty, Kunlun’s Kelli Stack joined Woo in the box.
Melanie Desrochers fired the first shot of the five on three, which went just wide of the Kunlun net. Desrochers second attempt, got to Karell Emard who tipped it wide as well. Kunlun’s effective fore-checking on the penalty kill allowed for them to keep the score even. The two-player advantage set the tone for each of the Canadiennes power plays that were to follow, in that they were able to generate good chances but unable to capitalize.
The Canadiennes five on five play fared better, and as the period reached the halfway mark Montreal’s offensive efforts came to fruition. Forward Erinn Noseworthy slid a Desrochers pass into the net behind Wang, scoring her first career CWHL goal, and giving Montreal the lead.
The second period opened with Sarah Lefort skating hard and earning herself a good scoring chance, that was shortly followed by an equally promising attempt by Kim Deschênes. Montreal was also able to hold off multiple offensive pushes by Kunlun, foiling two good offensive efforts by Stack.
An interference call against Noémie Marin put Kunlun on the power play. The penalty, which Montreal was able to kill, was abundant with shorthanded offensive opportunities. Canadiennes forward Ann-Sophie Bettez utilized her speed to generate a scoring attempt that would have made for a gorgeous goal. Tracy-Ann Lavigne had the team’s best shorthanded chance, with a shot that hit the post.
A Canadiennes powerplay was followed shortly after by a Canadiennes penalty kill as Cathy Chartrand was called for tripping. Maschmeyer blocked multiple scoring attempts before Kunlun's Melanie Jue was able to slide one past her on a play made possible by Kelli Stack's zone entry and net rush to tie the game at 1-1.
While on the man advantage Kayla Tutino and Bettez’s puck handling, and a deflection off of Sarah Lefort all came close to re-gaining the lead, but none found the back of the net.
Les Canadiennes returned to the power play for the sixth time when Jue was penalized for a body check. Despite the efforts of numerous players, notably Katia Clement-Heydra, Tutino, and Marin, the power play expired without any change in the score.
The score did change shortly after however, as after returning to full strength Kunlun’s Jessica Wong is able to push a rebound past Maschmeyer in a goal that was similar to Jue's opener. It gave the Red Star a 2-1 lead.
Playing from behind for one of the few times this season the Canadiennes made an offensive scramble but could not get the tying goal. Kunlun displayed a consistent level on energy and play despite having taken the lead.
Bettez made a drive to tie it up, rushing though the Kunlun defenders but the shot was stopped by Wang, who made 23 saves to win her CWHL debut.
With eight minutes left in the game Kelli Stack added to what was already a great game for her, by turning a stealthy interception into a third goal for Kunlun. She was tripped up by the defender, meaning she crashed into the Montreal goaltender after scoring. Maschmeyer was slow to rise, but stayed in the game.
After the game, Stack called the win “one of the best of her career.” A feeling that was shared by Kunlun head coach Digit Murphy.
There are still two games to go in the series, Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Both games will be at the Arena Michel Normandin in the Claude Robillard Sports Complex. Sunday’s game will be followed by a post-game autograph session.
Brunet isn’t worried about how his team will come out.
“If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that we will be better,” he said. “We’re Les Canadiennes. Our players have been through a lot of adversity and I know we’ll come back in this series.”
“[Sunday] we’ll show up you can be sure of that,” Bettez said.