The final weekend in the CWHL prior to the 2018 Olympic Games break saw the top of the standings create separation while the battle for the fourth and final playoff position heated up.
With both teams coming off of weekday contests, the last place Blades welcomed the first place Les Canadiennes to Boston with a thrilling Saturday night opener. Boston led all the way into the third thanks in part to an incredible evening from their top line of Melissa Bizzari (2 G), Kate Leary (1 G, 2 A), and Taylor Wasylk (1 G, 1 A). However, another goal scoring onslaught from Montréal’s breakout forward Sarah Lefort, which included a hat trick and the game-winning shootout goal, secured the important two-points in the standings. The Saturday evening contest also served as the Blades You Can Play game. The following evening Les Canadiennes returned to their dominant form outshooting the Blades 38-15 enroute to a shutout victory. In the win, Caroline Ouellette recorded her first goal since her return and 131st in her career, which lifted her above Jayna Hefford for first place in the CWHL’s all-time goal scoring rankings. As well, Montréal goaltender Marie-Soleil Deschênes registered a 15-save shutout in her CWHL debut.
Meanwhile, returning to home-ice in Shenzhen, China, the Vanke Rays welcomed the Calgary Inferno for their first international trip across the Pacific during Chinese New Year festivities. With both teams eyeing playoff positions the two-game series would be critical as each team picked up a win in the weekend set. Showing no signs of jetlag, the Inferno scored the first three goals of the Saturday afternoon contest. Forward Brittany Esposito (2 G, 1 A) and defence Katelyn Gosling (1 G, 2 A) led the way as Calgary picked up a convincing opening win in their four-game China road trip. However, the following day the Rays offence was up to the task of matching the Inferno with Vanke’s playmaking rookie Cayley Mercer assisting both regulation goals before notching the game-winning shootout marker. Still earning a point, the Inferno remain within distance of the CWHL leaders Les Canadiennes and Kunlun Red Star.
In a doubleheader with the Toronto Furies, including the second of three nationally televised regular season games on Sportsnet, the Markham Thunder continued their late-season push for the fourth and final playoff position with the doubleheader sweep. Riding a three-game win streak, the Furies opened Saturday afternoon quickly with a strong first period and a beautiful goal from Brittany Zuback. However, the Thunder took control utilizing high-end speed from defence Megan Bozek along with constant pressure in front of the Furies net from forwards Jamie Lee Rattray, Jenna McParland, and Kristen Richards. Between the two games, Markham outshot Toronto 74-41, while outscoring the Furies 11-4. The pair of wins proves significant as it moved the Thunder into a tie for fourth with the Vanke Rays, with just five games remaining on the schedule for both teams.
Jan. 30: Les Canadiennes 2, Vanke Rays 0
Feb. 1: Kunlun Red Star 4, Boston Blades 2
Feb. 3: Calgary Inferno 6, Vanke Rays 2
Feb. 3: Markham Thunder 6, Toronto Furies 2
Feb. 3: Les Canadiennes 5, Boston Blades 4 (SO)
Feb. 4: Vanke Rays 3, Calgary Inferno 2 (SO)
Feb. 4: Markham Thunder 5, Toronto Furies 2
Feb. 4: Les Canadiennes 6, Boston Blades 0
PLAYERS STATS – GOALIE STATS – CWHL STANDINGS
Calgary Inferno (13-3-4, 30 points) vs. Kunlun Red Star (17-4-0, 34 points)