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The quest for first: Les Canadiennes face an uphill battle to catch the Inferno

In the final weeks of the CWHL regular season, Les Canadiennes de Montréal look to challenge the Calgary Inferno for first place

Louis-Charles Dumais

It’s hard to imagine that a team sitting second overall in the league, only three points behind first, would be at all worried about their current situation. But after a remarkably dominant regular season last year, Les Canadiennes de Montréal may not have expected the road to the Clarkson Cup to be this challenging.

Right now, the only thing standing between Les Canadiennes and first place in the CWHL is the Calgary Inferno. The two Clarkson Cup finalists from 2016 are likely to face each other in the championship again this year, but Montreal would probably rather head into that game with a leg up on the defending champs. What are the chances that Montreal overtakes first place before the playoffs? Let’s take a look.

CWHL standings as of January 11, 2017

As far as hot streaks go, Calgary has the upper hand in this department. With an 8-2 record in their last 10 games, they’ve seemed almost unbeatable at times. Montreal, on the other hand, has a very respectable, but not nearly as dominant, 6-3-1 record in their last 10.

Calgary has been the better team against their competition. Both teams had a relatively even schedule over the course of those 10 games, each facing one of the bottom two teams (Boston Blades and Brampton Thunder) in four of the 10. So it’s difficult to determine, within this streak alone, who has the clear upper hand. Regardless, Calgary has been able to make the most of their opportunity.

Key Match-Ups

An important mark in the remaining regular-season schedule will be this weekend, as Calgary and Montreal face each other for the second-to-last time this season. Montreal can either overtake first place by going 2-0 on the weekend, or Calgary can widen the gap between them and second place by winning both games. Of course, if they split the weekend series, their place in the standings will remain unchanged. With the season series between these two teams tied so far, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens this weekend.

Louis-Charles Dumais

The remainder of the regular season for Montreal has them facing Brampton, Toronto and then Calgary, while Calgary will play Toronto, Boston and (of course) Montreal. Calgary’s game against the Boston Blades will likely result in two wins for the Inferno, making Montreal’s match-up against the Brampton Thunder very important. That’s a series they need to win if they want even a chance of catching Calgary in the standings. Given the records of both Brampton and Montreal this season, it should be an easy win for Montreal. But nothing is guaranteed in this game.

While beating Brampton is important for Les Canadiennes, it’s the series against the Toronto Furies that will be absolutely crucial in their quest for first place. The Furies pose the strongest competition for Les Canadiennes (outside of Calgary), as Montreal has tied the season series with Toronto 2-2. Calgary, on the other hand, is undefeated against Toronto. If Calgary beats them again, and Montreal fails to do the same, the standings will be all but set heading into the final match-up of the regular season between the two teams.

Louis-Charles Dumais

Playoffs

Whether or not they’re able to reclaim first place in the CWHL, Montreal will at least want to clinch home-ice advantage for the playoffs. If they can hold onto second place, they’ll be able to do just that. The way that the standings look right now, Montreal would face Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. Given the regular season record between these two teams, this probably isn’t the way Montreal would like to start their playoff run.

Moving into first place would mean that they could face Brampton instead, the fourth-place team, and potentially much easier competition. Overtaking Calgary for first would not only give Les Canadiennes regular-season supremacy, but also make their road to the Clarkson Cup a little easier.

The All-Star Game has taken much of the focus around the CWHL lately, but there is a lot of hockey remaining in the regular season, and much to look forward to for Les Canadiennes. If they want a chance at taking home the Clarkson Cup this season, and redeeming themselves from last year, they’ll need to focus on the task at hand, rather than looking too far ahead in the coming weeks.