Les Canadiennes, Thunder to face off in Clarkson Cup semifinals

Montreal has home ice, but it’s going to be a close matchup between the two teams.

The third place Brampton Thunder is set to face off against the second place Les Canadiennes de Montreal in the first round of the Clarkson Cup playoffs. The best-of-three series starts February 24 in Calgary.

As the season wound down, it was clear the Thunder couldn’t catch Les Canadiennes. But Les Canadiennes haven’t looked quite like the same dominant team they were last year, struggling at times. Do the Thunder have a chance of pulling off the upset?

Sticking to the game plan

At this year’s All-Star weekend, Marie-Philip Poulin was asked who she though was the hardest player to play against in the CWHL. After a little hemming and hawing, she answered that it was Rebecca Vint, and we quote:

If you asked any team in the league who they hate playing against most, everyone would probably say Brampton, because their style of play is physical and unrelenting. That’s not to say they don’t have talent on their team, because there’s boatloads of it, especially when it comes to their steady goaltending and stellar defense. But when you play Brampton, even if you win, you aren’t going to walk away with a win easily.

Montreal has the superior firepower, but if Vint and Brampton can frustrate Montreal early in the series, they have a shot at keeping this close.

Angela James Bowl showdown

Technically, the Angela James Bowl, awarded to the player who leads the league in points during the regular season, has already been awarded. Brampton’s Jess Jones and Montreal’s Marie-Philip Poulin tied for the trophy, each scoring 37 points (although Poulin technically scored hers in fewer games).

Montreal has more offensive depth- Ann-Sophie Bettez finished the season right behind Jones and Poulin with 36 points and Caroline Ouellette finished fourth overall in the league with 31 points. Jones will need to keep scoring like she has been all year and the Brampton defense must stop Montreal’s top three scorers in this series.

It’s not quite Calgary, with three MVP-worthy goalies on its roster, but Brampton will have a difficult decision to make about who it puts in net. Head coach Tyler Fines has used goalies Erica Howe and Liz Knox as a 1A and 1B goalie rotation this year; the two have evenly split time in goal and have relatively close stats.

If we’re going purely based on stats, Howe should get the nod. She’s played in one more game than Knox and has the better numbers, finishing the regular season with a 2.22 goals against average and a .919 save percentage compared to Knox’s 2.64 GAA and .899 SV%. But if either goalie has a bad game, the other is more than capable of stepping in, while it’s almost certain that Montreal will be relying heavily on their rock in net, Charline Labonté.

Series prediction

Montreal has the edge in the season series, winning four games to Brampton’s two, and they have home ice advantage, but I think this series goes to three games. Montreal should still come out on top with the superior offensive power and the motivation from last year’s epic collapse at the Clarkson Cup Final. But Brampton will be able to sneak out with one victory.