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Inferno Report: Splitting series vs. Montreal; clinching home ice

The top two teams in the CWHL split their final series against one another in the regular season while the Calgary Inferno clinched home ice in the playoffs.

The Calgary Inferno won the season series against Les Canadiennes, going 4-2-0 against the second best team in the league. The Inferno continue to hold the first place spot and with their win over Montreal on Saturday, they officially clinched home ice in the playoffs.

Saturday

The first period started out with some end to end action and both goaltenders putting up great performances. Slightly past the midway mark, the Inferno took their second penalty of the game, and with arguably the best powerplay unit in the league, Hilary Knight made it 1-0 for the Fabs.

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Less than two minutes later, Ann-Sophie Bettez made it 2-0 to finally capitalize on what was already her third chance of the hockey game. Shortly after that goal, the Inferno went on the powerplay and it didn’t take them long to get set up. With a feed from Brianne Jenner and the tip from Rebecca Leslie, they cut the lead to one.

Later in the period as the Inferno got called for interference, they didn’t let Montreal take advantage this time. Instead, Venla Hovi did a good job of blocking a pass which was eventually cleared for Brianna Decker, the NHL’s true Premier Passer, to head down the ice on a partial break and even things up shorthanded.

With just 37 seconds left in the period, Halli Krzyzaniak shot the puck from the point to give the Inferno their first lead of the game.

The first half of the second period was dominated by the Inferno. While they didn’t get a lot of shots on net, they kept possession of the puck and didn’t allow the Fabs to get many chances while playing a strong game in the neutral zone. It also didn’t help that the Fabs took two back-to-back penalties in the first half, but both were successfully killed off.

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About halfway through the period, the Fabs started to push back a little, but a post here and a few saves there and they couldn’t tie things up. With a little over three to go, Decker went down the ice and spotted Rebecca Johnston coming from behind to feed her the puck for a beauty on the backhand for the 4-2 lead.

Less than a minute later, Marie-Philip Poulin, who was all over the Inferno the entire game, finally got one past Alex Rigsby to bring the Fabs within one again to close out the period.

Early in the third period, the Inferno had a powerplay. The Fabs managed to clear the zone in the dying seconds of their penalty kill with Jill Saulnier coming out of the box, getting the puck down to Poulin who was right in front of Rigsby, but she stoned her, keeping it a one-goal game. After that chance, the Fabs kept the pressure but still couldn’t even things up. This was followed by some good pressure from the Inferno, including a great play by Decker who was absolutely robbed by Genevieve Lacasse.

With six minutes to go in the period, Venla Hovi made a great play to get the puck over to Kaitlin Willoughby who fed it over to Blayre Turnbull who was right in front of Lacasse and got a quick wrist shot past her for the 5-3 lead.

With three minutes to go, Poulin brought the Fabs within one again before the Inferno took a penalty and the Fabs took Lacasse out for a 6-on-4 advantage. While it was an intense final couple of minutes, especially the last 40 seconds of the game, this one ended 5-4 for the Inferno.

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That was the Inferno’s 10th straight road win which is now a franchise record.

This was an intense game and a matchup we could very well see in the Clarkson Cup.

Sunday

Sunday’s game didn’t seem to have as much energy as Saturday’s and frankly, the Inferno didn’t have that fire they had on Saturday.

The first period didn’t have a whole lot of action in the first half besides the Inferno taking an early penalty but killing it off successfully. Around the midway mark, the Inferno got their best chance of the game at that point but Emerance Maschmeyer brought her A-game as usual.

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With under a minute to go in the period, Jill Saulnier gave the Fabs the first goal of the game with a nice backhander.

That momentum carried into the second period because just 33 seconds in, Poulin made it 2-0 with an incredible feed from Saulnier. The Inferno took two penalties this period and while the first one didn’t have many dangerous chances from the Fabs, the second saw a great chance for Bettez, which Rigsby stopped. This period finished 2-0 for the Fabs.

The third period was similar to the previous two. Both teams took penalties and both were killed off. At the 12:56 mark, players from each team went off for roughing, something you don’t see often in women’s hockey.

As the Inferno took Rigsby out for the extra attacker with under two to go, Poulin made it 3-0 with the empty net goal to finish this one 3-0 and shut out the Inferno.

The Inferno didn’t necessarily play badly this game, but they did seem quite low energy and didn’t get the same kind of chances the Fabs had. They continue to lead the standings with 37 points in 23 games while Montreal is right on their tail with 35 points in 23 games.

What’s coming up

The Inferno’s next and final home series of the regular season is this upcoming weekend, with the game on Sunday being their annual You Can Play game. Tickets can be found here.

The Rivalry Series is also coming up from Feb. 12-17. 11 Inferno players made the rosters, with those details found here.