After their comeback was cut short last night, Les Canadiennes had to win, and they came roaring out of the gate, and came up with a 5-0 victory on Sunday afternoon at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard to win their best of-three semi-final against the Markham Thunder two games to one.
With the win, they have officially set their date for the Clarkson Cup against their rival Calgary Inferno. The two teams split the 2016 and 2017 championships and it will make the third straight non-Olympic year the two will meet in the final. Both teams lost in the semi-final last year.
Les Canadiennes dominated most of the control early on the game, and midway through the first period, after killing off a Catherine Daoust minor, Montreal got on the board when Mélodie Daoust redirected a Lauriane Rougeau point shot that eluded Thunder goaltender Erica Howe.
By the end of the first period, it remained 1-0, but Les Canadiennes had killed both penalties they took, something that they had struggled with the night before, giving up four powerplay goals. It was an element of their game they wanted to work on in today’s contest.
Montreal jumped on an off-kilter Markham squad early on in the second, scoring three goals in a 3:04 span. The top line combination of Mélodie Daoust, Jill Saulnier, and Hilary Knight were on fire. Both Saulnier and Knight racked up a goal and two helpers in the sequence. It was Saulnier’s first post-season tally, and Knight’s three points gave her eight in the series, and was her third-straight multi-point outing.
“Today was definitely a do-or-die game for us, and I’m really happy about the way we all played together today,” said Knight. “It’s always fun to play with great players, that’s one, in addition to many other reasons why I came up here, once you have awesome teammates, the love of the game becomes even more contagious.”
Saulnier was elated with potting her first.
“I had a monkey on my back for sure,” said the Halifax-native. “But our team most certainly did not. And that helped me contribute.”
“It was probably the best period we’ve played all season long,” said head coach Caroline Ouellette about the middle frame. “There was one wave of red after another, and it looked to keep us together.”
The other goal was scored by Rougeau, giving her a goal and assist in the contest. Her playing time was increased due to the injury to teammate Erin Ambrose, and her play was noticed by Ouellette.
“Just seeing how well the forwards and [defenders] worked together well today, really helped with our game plan,” said Ouellette. “That was also the best I’ve seen of her [Rougeau], she really stepped up, and has been a constant force for us.”
With the score 4-0 Montreal midway through the second period, sophomore forward Tracy-Ann Lavigne broke out and wired a shot past Howe to put more gas into the flame, and upping the score to five.
It was Lavigne’s first career CWHL playoff goal, and you could tell by her enthusiasm following the game.
“I’m beyond happy,” said Lavigne. “We will play hard [in the Clarkson Cup final], win our battles and give it our all.”
In the final stanza, Markham really tried firing at Montreal goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer, but she had other plans, stonewalling and turning aside all 17 shots she faced, including one sprawling diving save in the final minute.
It was the second shutout of the series for the Bruderheim, Alberta native, who’s set to play in her second Clarkson Cup in three seasons. She started the 2017 final for the Inferno, against Montreal.
“They’re a really good team,” said Maschmeyer. “But if we can keep up the same momentum that we had tonight moving to that game, then I don’t think we should have any problem.”
The same sentiment was echoed by Saulnier, also a former Inferno player.
“Ever since coming here this organization has welcomed me with welcome arms,” said Saulnier. “This is my family, and I’m so excited to be a part of it this year.”
The winner-take-all Clarkson Cup Final will take place on Sunday, March 24 at noon at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario. The game will be broadcast on Sportsnet.