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Les Canadiennes split series against Thunder to finish regular season

The two teams will meet again in the first round of the playoffs.

Shanna Martin / CWHL

Les Canadiennes finished off their regular season at home against the Markham Thunder this weekend. Each team came away with a win, with Montreal winning Saturday 2-1, and Markham taking the second game 3-2. Les Canadiennes opened the weekend with their roster replenished as members of team Canada and Team USA had returned from the Rivalry series. Markham was looking to clinch a playoff spot which they could accomplish with a single point.

Saturday: W 2-1

The opening frame had Markham exchanging chances with a perhaps overly enthusiastic Canadiennes team. While possession remained fairly even, Montreal's scoring opportunities, while numerous, where not highly dangerous, with multiple shots going wide of Markham netminder Erica Howe.

One of the more promising early chances was courtesy of Catherine Daoust on a partial breakaway. The top line also had an opportunity when smooth stick handling by Marie-Philip Poulin allowed her to maintain possession and get the puck to Ann-Sophie Bettez and then Jill Saulnier. Howe, however, was in her best form from the initial puck drop and was able to answer everything fired at her in the first period.

The Montreal team that returned from the second period showed no remnants of the issues that had been present in the first. Forward Mélodie Daoust acknowledged the adjustments, “We settled down our emotions and refocused on the game plan,” she said.

Daoust had some shots early in the period, including firing multiple dangerous ones from the point. An early interception by Poulin lead to another scoring opportunity for Saulnier, but Erica Howe made the save.

Markham gained the lead three minutes into the period, when Maschmeyer was able to make the save on Laura Stacey, but unable to recover in time to prevent the rebound from Victoria Bach.

Montreal matched Markham later in the period when a point shot from Poulin was deflected in by a screening Mélodie Daoust.

In the final seconds of the period Les Canadiennes scored again. Ann-Sophie Bettez battled hard along the boards to maintain possession despite much pressure form Markham. With the puck still on her stick she found Poulin, who, once Bettez was distanced from the Markham player, returned the pass. Bettez sent a pass to the slot where the puck found the stick of Saulnier, then the back of the Thunder net.

Montreal continued their strong play in the third, where the efforts of Markham’s netminder Erica Howe can be credited for the score remaining unchanged.

Sunday: L 3-2

As with the previous game, Montreal had a slow start in the first but was able to gain momentum as the game progressed. Markham once again opened the scoring in the second period, when Jess Jones deflected the puck over the right shoulder of Canadiennes netminder Geneviève Lacasse.

Attempt at a timely comeback where put on hold when Marie-Philip Poulin went down near centre ice. She left the game and did not return, but Canadiennes coach Caroline Ouellette stated that she would reevaluated but anticipated Poulin to be back in two weeks (the start of the Clarkson Cup Playoffs).

With Poulin no longer on the bench the lines were adjusted, Sarah Lefort moved to centre between Bettez and Daoust, and Hilary Knight spent time on the wing in a line with Jill Saulnier and Karell Emard. Les Canadiennes depth allowed for them to adjust fairly well considering the absence of the substantial on ice impact of Poulin.

A play by Katia Clement-Heydra got the puck to Mélodie Daoust, whose shot, though wide of the net, set Hilary Knight up for a rebound opportunity. Daoust and Knight generated another chance when Knight attempted to fire a Daoust pass in off Erica Howe.

Markham increased their lead shortly there after. Laura Stacey carried the puck into the offensive zone and past the lone Montreal defender Melanie Desrochers. She made a cross ice pass to Jamie Lee Rattray who shot it past Lacasse. Les Canadiennes struggled to set up effective offensive plays. They had multiple uncharacteristic failed and missed passes, one of which resulted in an icing call.

Montreal came back from the second intermission looking much more comfortable with their line adjustments.

“We told them it was a great opportunity to show each other what they are made of,” said Ouellette.

Markham continued their offensive play scoring once again. This time it was Laura Stacey, who entered the zone and scored the team's third goal off of the rush. Montreal’s efforts were rewarded shortly thereafter. Karell Emard made a centering pass to Knight, whose shot was saved, but trickled in. The goal was credited to Saulnier, but that will be changed.

With the gap in goals having been reduced, Les Canadiennes wasted no time in narrowing the differential even further. Fourteen seconds after the Saulnier goal, Ann Sophie Bettez carried the puck up the wing and fired it top shelf on Howe.

While the Canadiennes battled hard - shots were 27-20 in their favour - they fell one goal short of a comeback from the three-goal deficit. Their third period and second period play once again was strong, with a slow first period being a significant reason they were unable to even the score.

Caroline Ouellette identified that as “the message” the team would be taking away from the series. “We need to start the game the way we played in third, with that sense of urgency,” she said.

With Markham earning two points, the two teams will face off again soon in round one of the Clarkson Cup playoffs which will take place March 8-9-10 in Montreal. It is a best-of-three series.