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CWHL Preview: Les Canadiennes get set for three-game series with Vanke Rays

Returns, milestones, and three games with huge playoff implications highlight the weekend

Shanna Martin/EOTP

Les Canadiennes will look to tighten their hold on top spot of the CWHL this weekend when they host the Vanke Rays for three games this weekend, ending with their second Tuesday night game of the season.

Montreal is currently tied with the Kunlun Red Star but have one game in hand. However, the Calgary Inferno are just one point behind with a game in hand on Montreal. Les Canadiennes and Calgary have two more games in Montreal in March to close out the regular season.

CWHL Standings

MONTREAL 17 14 3 0 28 69 40
KUNLUN 18 14 4 0 28 58 32
CALGARY 16 12 1 3 27 64 32
VANKE 18 11 6 1 23 60 49
MARKHAM 21 7 7 7 21 45 59
TORONTO 21 5 14 2 12 35 79
BOSTON 17 1 14 2 4 27 67

But Montreal will get reinforcements for the important series this weekend. Caroline Ouellette will play her first games of the season after it was announced that she will return just months after giving birth to her daughter.

Les Canadiennes will also get Kim Deschênes back, who has been out since leaving the December 10 game against Toronto with an injury. Montreal also got Jordanna Peroff back last weekend.

Ouellette, for her part, is one goal away from setting the all-time CWHL goals record by herself. She is currently tied with Jayna Hefford. Ironically, her teammate Noemie Marin is a hat trick away from tying the pair as well.

Montreal is led by Ann-Sophie Bettez who leads the league with 13 goals and eight assists in 17 games. The top line has been Bettez with Noémie Marin (15 GP 12G-4A) and Karell Emard (17 GP 4G-9A) but it will be interesting to see if it will change with the return of Deschênes and Ouellette.

Erin Ambrose has five points in six games since being acquired from Toronto and has added a key dimension to the Montreal team.

Emerance Maschmeyer has been great for Montreal this season as well. She is 11-2 on the season with a 1.77 GAA and .926 save percentage.

The Fabs lost their last game against Toronto, ending a nine game winning streak that ironically lasted from after they hosted the Kunlun Red Star until before they host their Chinese counterparts, the Vanke Rays.

Vanke has been led offensively by their import rookies. Cayley Mercer is putting together one of the best rookie seasons the CWHL has had in recent years, with 12 goals and 18 assists in 18 games, and sits second in league scoring behind just Kelli Stack.

They have also gotten key contributions from D Ashleigh Brykaliuk (18 GP 7G-16A) and forwards Brooke Webster (16 GP 9G-13A), Hanna Bunton (18 GP 12G-7A) and Emma Woods (18 GP 6G-9A). Former NWHL player Emily Janiga (18 GP 5G-5A) is also contributing. Janiga won the Isobel Cup with the Buffalo Beauts last year.

They have also gotten really good goaltending from another rookie, Elaine Chuli. Chuli is 11-6 with a 2.49 GAA and .926 save percentage. She has four shutouts.

The three games will take place at the Michel Normandin arena at the Claude Robillard Sports Complex. Saturday's game is at 5:30 p.m., Sunday's is at 1:30 p.m. and Tuesday night's game is at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available here.