The 2018 Clarkson Cup semifinals wrapped up this weekend in dramatic fashion. The fourth seed Markham Thunder shocked the Chairman’s Trophy winners, Les Canadiennes de Montréal, in a sweep. In the other semifinal matchup, Kunlun Red Star punched their ticket to the final in a historic triple-OT, series-clinching win over the Calgary Inferno.
Here is how it happened.
Montréal vs. Markham
Les Canadiennes were the favorite in this matchup against the Thunder. Montréal was the best team in the regular season, and the addition of Hilary Knight to their roster in the final weekend appeared to be a masterstroke. In our series preview, we outlined why this series may be closer than the record showed. Markham proved that we did not go far enough.
WE’RE COMING FOR YOU CLARKY! pic.twitter.com/Kx0bXYqH8c— Markham Thunder HC (@ThunderCWHL) March 18, 2018
Game One featured stellar goaltending from Erica Howe of Markham and Emerance Maschmeyer of Montréal. Howe stopped 34 of 35 shots while Maschmeyer turned aside 29 of 31. Nicole Kosta scored first for the Thunder, and Les Canadiennes’ Emmanuelle Blais answered with a tally of her own to tie the game in the third period. This one would require overtime, where MVP candidate Jamie Lee Rattray was the deciding factor.
Montréal’s power play had let them down all night, going 0-5 with the woman advantage. Its biggest failure came in the extra frame when Markham’s Rattray sprung loose on a breakaway and netted the shorthanded game winner. It was the sixth time in a row that a game between these two teams went to overtime. For the first time, Markham skated away as the winner.
Les Canadiennes opened the scoring in game two thanks to a power-play goal by Sarah Lefort. Less than 20 seconds later, Jenna McParland would score the first goal of her hat trick on the night. Rattray added an empty net goal to seal the 4-1 win and clinch Markham’s appearance in the finals.
Goaltender Erica Howe was phenomenal for the Markham Thunder. She stopped 61 of 63 shots in the series, good for a .968 SV% against a Montréal team that scored the most goals in the regular season. Rattray may have had the headlines going into the playoffs, but Howe stole the show.
Kunlun vs. Calgary
In our series preview, we highlighted how important goaltender Noora Räty would be in Kunlun Red Star’s Clarkson Cup hopes. The superstar Finnish Olympian lived up to the hype, as seen most prominently in an historic overtime performance for the ages in the final game of the series.
Calgary stunned Kunlun in game one with a 3-0 victory. The Inferno barraged Red Star’s Räty with 38 shots, leading to goals from Dakota Woodworth, Louise Warren, and Brittney Fouracres. Despite the losing effort, Räty was named the third star of the game.
Räty would endure much of the same in game two, shutting down 34 of 36 Calgary shots. Kunlun would give their star goaltender some goal support, including the overtime winner from Stephanie Anderson in a 3-2 final that would force a third game of the best-of-three series. Defender Jessica Wong sparked the offense and picked up three assists in the win.
The offense disappeared in game three. Rather, Räty and opposing netminder Delayne Brian made it disappear. The game was scoreless after regulation. It remained so through the first overtime — and then another. Brian shut down Kunlun’s attack with 39 saves after the second overtime period. Across the rink stood Räty, unbeaten on 59 shots against. The goalie duel lasted until Red Star’s offensive dynamos Kelli Stack, Zoe Hickel, and Alex Carpenter linked up for the lone goal of the game. Carpenter finished off a deft passing play from her teammates with a deke around Brian’s right pad at 14:01 of the third overtime frame. At the final buzzer, Räty had faced 66 shots. She stopped them all.
That was an absolutely unbelievable game of hockey that neither team deserved to lose. Both teams left their heart and soul on that ice and we want to commend the @InfernoCWHL on a great year— Kunlun Red Star (@KunlunCWHL) March 19, 2018
Noora Räty was Red Star’s first star for the series. The fantastic Finn played 236:32 in the three games while stopping 135 of 140 shots for a .964 SV%. Her performance throughout this entire inaugural season has been remarkable. Kelli Stack deserves a lot of praise as the Angela James Bowl winner, with 49 points in 28 games, but Räty’s dominance between the pipes for Kunlun has guided them to the position they are in.
Looking ahead to the Clarkson Cup Final
Stay tuned for the Clarkson Cup Final preview later in the week. The Thunder will be looking for a championship in their debut season in Markham while Red Star will try to win it all in their first season in the league. The Finals are on Sunday, March 25.