Furies, Inferno to meet in Clarkson Cup playoffs

The fourth-place Furies face a tall order against the reigning champs.

The Toronto Furies will take on the top-seeded Calgary Inferno in the first round of the Clarkson Cup playoffs. The best-of-three series starts February 24 in Calgary.

A Study In Contrasts

The numbers are stark. Calgary has all but run rampant across the CWHL this season, going 20-4-0 to finish first in the league and take home ice advantage in the semifinals. Calgary finished second in last year's CWHL standings and upset the heavily-favored Les Canadiennes de Montreal to claim their first-ever Clarkson Cup title in a decisive 8-3 victory. This year the Inferno are out to become the first Clarkson Cup repeating champions since the 2011 and 2012 Montreal Stars.

After losing all six regular-season games against the Inferno, Toronto comes into the semi-final with their fourth straight fourth-place finish. Despite going from fourth seed to Clarkson Cup champions in 2014, the Furies have struggled in the ensuing years. Their 9-11-3 record is an improvement from last year's 6-16-2, but there’s cause for concern when faced with the Inferno’s speed and veracity.

Calgary’s biggest strength arguably comes from their goaltending depth. The formidable trio of Emerance Maschmayer, Genevieve Lacasse, and Delayne Brian have been stellar all season long, splitting the games fairly evenly and combining for a league-leading .926 SV%. Maschmayer, the only rookie in the tandem, topped the CWHL with .946 SV% and a 1.49 goals against average.

Toronto will be without defenseman Sena Suzuki while Calgary will be without defensemen Aina Takeuchi and Akane Hosoyamada for the semi-final; all three players are currently with Team Japan and consider their CWHL seasons finished unless their teams make the Clarkson Cup finals.

The Linchpins

Veteran, all-star, and 2017 Goaltender of the Year nominee Christina Kessler is Toronto’s workhouse between the pipes. She put up a .920 SV% this season, good for fourth in the CWHL, but still behind Maschmayer and Lacasse. After putting up respectable regular-season numbers she stumbled in last year’s playoffs against Les Canadiennes and backup Sonja van der Bliek was unable to stop the bleeding. If Kessler can maintain her regular-season poise, it just might give the Furies’ offensive stalwarts the opportunities they need.

Toronto's most dangerous offensive weapon, forward Natalie Spooner, saw her production dip this year with 20 points in 20 games, compared to last year's 30 points in 22 games. While Spooner still remains in the CWHL’s top five in goals, she’s dropped out of the top ten in points, going from fourth in the league to eleventh. She had one goal and two assists this season in Toronto's six matchups against the Inferno, but the Furies will need more from their captain if they want to win this series.

Calgary’s depth

It’s the same suspects that have been putting the puck in the net for Calgary, so Toronto has a pretty good idea of who it’s up against. But on top of the national team stars like Rebecca Johnston and Brianne Jenner is Iya Gavrilova, a rookie from the Russian national team that was recently named one of the Rookie of the Year candidates. She’s fourth on the team in scoring with 21 points in 20 games, averaging just over a point per game. Christina Kessler and Toronto’s defense will need to slow down the Inferno’s offense if the Furies have any hope of emerging victorious in this series.

Game one will be played on February 24 at 8:00 PM MST at Carstairs Memorial Arena in Calgary with game two on February 25 at 3:30 PM MST at Winsport Joan Snyder. If necessary, game three will be at Carstairs Memorial Arena at 12:45 PM MST. The CWHL will broadcast the second game (and third, if necessary) on the league’s Youtube channel.