Calgary, Alta (March 9)– There are still two regular season games remaining on the schedule for the Calgary Inferno this coming weekend but they will certainly have a playoff feel to them. The final weekend series will see the Inferno pay a visit to ‘La Belle Province’ in a crucial matchup against Les Canadiennes de Montreal.
Only three points separate first and third with the Kunlun Red Star and Les Canadiennes de Montreal tied atop the CWHL standings (41 points), while Calgary sits in third (38 points). With two regulation victories this weekend, the Inferno would guarantee themselves a home playoff game.
“The playoff race in the CWHL is super tight. This is the closest finish that I have seen in my four years in the league and its fun to be a part of,” remarked assistant captain Hayleigh Cudmore. “In our minds we’ve been on our playoff run since the beginning of February. Every game down the stretch has been so crucial. This upcoming weekend against Montreal is huge. Playoff seeding is on the line. We have faced Montreal in the two last [Clarkson] Cups so we know how big this match up is, and we know how intense these games are going to be especially this late in the season.”
Calgary had the opportunity to increase their chances of hosting that playoff game last weekend but ran into an extremely hot Markham Thunder team, who outscored the Inferno 9-2 in the two-game series.
Montreal also squandered some chances to lock up the Chairman’s Trophy as they recently finished up their overseas trip to China and only came away with three out of a possible eight points. Their three points came via a 2-0 shutout against the Vanke Rays and a shootout loss versus the Kunlun Red Star.
This weekend’s games could potentially see some high scoring affairs, as it will feature the two best offensive teams in the league. Les Canadiennes and their high-octane offense pace the league with 110 goals, while the Inferno have found the back of the net 94 times this year. The key for the Inferno will be to avoid the penalty box. Calgary is the least penalized team in the league (186 PIMs). Meanwhile, Montreal has scored 22% of their goals on the man advantage (24), which is best overall.
“This week in practice we have been focusing on sticking to our game plan. We have had a lot of success this year so even though last weekend didn’t go as we had planned, we know we have to continue with what has worked and focus on executing,” added Cudmore.
Offensively, the Inferno will lean on forwards Brittany Esposito and Iya Gavrilova. Esposito leads the Inferno with 16 goals on the year, including four game-winning goals. Meanwhile, Gavrilova has poured in a team-best 18 assists this season and averages slightly under one point per game. Dependable blueliners Jacquie Pierri and Katelyn Gosling, who have a +21 and +16 rating respectively, will have their hands full with the league’s top offense. Between the pipes, both newcomer Lindsey Post and incumbent Delayne Brian could potentially get the nod this weekend with each netminder posting seven wins, while registering similar Goals Against Averages and Save Percentages.
As for the host Les Canadiennes, they will unleash forwards Ann-Sophie Bettez, Sarah Lefort, Noémie Marin and Katia Clement-Heydra, as all four are inside the top 10 in scoring. Bettez leads the pack the way 18 goals and 34 points, while Lefort, Marin and Clement-Heydra all average above one point per game. On the blueline, Cathy Chartrand will contribute in all three zones, producing a +26 rating and 21 points offensively. Former Calgary Inferno Emerance Maschmeyer will be the last line of defense for Montreal. Maschmeyer has looked right at home so far in her first season with Les Canadiennes as she has a share of the league lead with 16 wins and sits second in Goals Against Average (1.86) and Shutouts (5).
Both games will take place at Complexe sportif Bell in Montreal, Quebec this weekend with Saturday’s game going at 5:30 pm EST, while Sunday’s contest will see an earlier 3:30 pm EST puck drop. Sunday’s game will be broadcast on Sportsnet.