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2019 CWHL Playoffs Series Preview: Calgary vs Toronto

Can the Furies pull off the upset?

Al Saniuk

The 2019 Clarkson Cup Playoffs are starting. The first seed Calgary Inferno faces off against the red-hot Toronto Furies Friday evening in Calgary.

Schedule

  • Game One: Furies at Inferno | Fri. March 8, 8:00 p.m. MST
  • Game Two: Furies at Inferno | Sat. March 9, 6:45 p.m. MST
  • Game Three (if necessary): Furies at Inferno | Sun. March 10, 12:00 p.m. MDT

Game Two will be streamed by the CWHL. Furies General Manager Sami Jo Small tweeted that FuriesTV will be in attendance as well.

Season Series

Calgary was able to chase a Toronto goaltender out of the crease in two of their four wins in the season series. However, the Furies were the first team to hand the Inferno a shutout loss this season on Feb. 3. The Furies also handed Calgary their first regulation loss since the first game of the season against Les Canadiennes de Montréal on Dec. 15, 2018. It was at that point when many started to pay a little bit more attention to this young Furies team.

The Furies were just one of two teams that were able to hand the Calgary Inferno a regulation loss this season — and they did it twice.

Aside from Calgary’s 6-0 scorching of Toronto on Dec. 16, every game in the series has been decided by three goals or less. That’s pretty remarkable considering how many high-scoring affairs transpired in this season series. The average game between these two teams had 5.83 goals scored and there was only one empty-netter — scored by Jess Vella of the Furies — in those six games.

Mike Murphy | Team logos belong to the CWHL

The Inferno may have had the biggest win of the series, but Toronto has had the most recent victory. It’s also worth mentioning that the Furies had more success against Calgary’s goaltenders than every other team in the league except Les Canadiennes.

Players to Watch

Furies rookie forward Sarah Nurse had three goals and three assists in the season series, including goals in the first three games where she faced the Inferno. Her production on the power play this season can’t be ignored. When the Furies go on the advantage, she’s the player Calgary needs to mark closely. She’s just too dangerous when the ice is open.

The Furies’ biggest star, Natalie Spooner, is also a player that Calgary needs to keep tabs on. Spooner, who was a difference-maker for Team Canada in the Rivalry Series, had three goals and four assists in the season series against the Inferno. She scored 15 goals this season for Toronto including two shorties and two game-winning goals.

Toronto’s blue line is going to have their hands full in this series, but they need to find a way to stop Calgary’s big three forwards: Brianna Decker, Rebecca Johnston, and Brianne Jenner.

Decker had two goals and two assists in the four games she played in the season series. She finished the regular season with 12 goals and 14 assists in 23 games and had seven multi-point games. Johnston, who shared a lot of ice time with Decker, is a top candidate for MVP this year. The Canadian winger had a staggering three goals and seven assists against the Furies this season.

As impressive as Johnston’s numbers were in the season series against the Furies, Jenner’s might be better. Calgary’s former captain scored five of her 19 goals this season against Toronto. That’s just shy of one-fourth of the goals that the Inferno scored in those six games. Jenner will be a difference-maker in this series because that’s who she is as a player.

Between the Pipes

Calgary’s most-experienced goaltender, Alex Rigsby, has yet to face Toronto this season. Rigsby earned the majority of the Inferno’s wins this year, although Annie Belanger’s .928 save percentage is the best on the team. The fact that so many players on the Inferno are unfamiliar with Rigsby could help tip the scales in Calgary’s favor.

For the Furies, Shea Tiley has had the most success against Calgary with a .910 save percentage in four appearances. Of course, we can’t talk about Tiley and her play against the Inferno this season without mentioning her 50-save performance on Jan. 12. With that being said, both teams will likely start multiple goaltenders because of how compressed the schedule is for the semifinals.

Prediction

The Furies went on an incredible run to clinch a spot in the 2019 Clarkson Cup Playoffs. Right now, the Furies are riding a wave of emotion and momentum. But that wave will likely come to a crashing end in Alberta against the best pro women’s hockey team in North America.

The statistics are definitely in Calgary’s favor. Toronto has been outscored 38 to 53 at 5v5 this season, whereas the Inferno have outscored the opposition 74 to 36 at 5v5. Calgary is simply the better team at even strength. The recipe for success in this series for them will be staying out of the box. The Furies’ power play has been their biggest weapon this season. Without it, they have the fifth-worst offense in the league.

Toronto is everyone’s favorite underdog right now, but they are going up against an absolutely stacked team that hardly missed a beat when former head coach Shannon Miller left the team in early December. The Inferno might be a little jet-lagged from their three-game trip to China at the close of the regular season, but that trip wrapped up on Feb. 23. Calgary should be well-rested and ready to prove that they are the true favorites for the 2019 Clarkson Cup.

Data courtesy of thecwhl.com, cwhl-tracker.com, and the author’s own stat tracking.