The Montreal Stars entered the three-game series against the Calgary Inferno with the goal of winning it and closing the gap between themselves and the first place Inferno.
After losing the opener on Saturday, they suddenly were in danger of a three-game losing streak falling further behind both Calgary and the second place Boston Blades.
“If you look at the standings everyone is so close, you can’t really lose three games in a row, especially not four,” said Stars goaltender Charline Labonte. “So I think it was important for us as a team and our confidence as a team that we’re good enough to beat the first place team.”
Stars 5, Inferno 2
But, unlike their start a day earlier, the Stars got on the board quickly, capitalizing on their scoring opportunities.
Emilie Bocchia scored eight minutes into the game past Calgary goaltender Camille Trautman. Her line with Casandra Dupuis and Sara Dagenais had several chances in the game and was one of the main differences between the two games.
“It definitely set the pace and the momentum of the game, all you have to do is just shoot on net and sometimes the goals go in and sometimes they don’t but after that goal we got the game going,” said Bocchia. “I think we wanted to play a bit more simple, more forechecking and just have fun.”
Only five minutes later, the Stars got on the board again when Caroline Ouellette beat Trautman on a wrist shot with Ann-Sophie Bettez driving to the net. The Stars quickly had a 2-0 lead.
That lead turned to 3-0 early in the second when Noemie Marin scored her first of two goals with a wrist shot over the blocker of Trautman.
Calgary cut the lead to 3-1 when Tegan Schroeder scored on a long wrist shot after a scramble in front left Labonte without her stick.
They then went on a power play with under six minutes remaining, but Labonte kept it at 3-1 even when the momentum was swinging Calgary’s way. They had several chances to close out the period, but were still down two.
The Stars added two more goals in the third, a puck off the end boards went straight on the stick of Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux to make it 4-1 and then on the power play, Marin scored her second of the game. Erica Kromm scored for Calgary to make the game the 5-2 final.
“We talked about it before the game that we wanted to pay attention to the little details, blocking shots, being strong on the puck,” said Marin. “We got on the ice and everybody committed to doing that.”
Stars 4, Inferno 1
The next day was the rubber match for the Stars and Inferno and it was the Stars annual School Day where school kids around the area watched the game and got to stick around afterwards for autographs and pictures.
Calgary got off to a quick start on the power play when Bailey Bram, who attended Team Canada’s camp earlier in the week in Montreal, put a loose puck at the side of the net home past Labonte, who was making her third start in three days.
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It was the only goal that would go past Labonte, despite the Stars being outshot 13-5 in the opening period and 31-21 for the game.
Cathy Chartrand opened the scoring for the Stars potting a 3-on-2 rush from Ouellette and Emmanuelle Blais, who both ended up colliding behind the net and were slow to get up. Both returned to the game.
The Stars opened up the second period strong, scoring on the power play only 20 seconds into the period when Ann-Sophie Bettez put home a rebound in front.
Marin, who assisted on Bettez’s goal scored one of her own six minutes later. It was Marin’s fourth goal in two games, and her second straight two-point night.
“Special teams are important, so we wanted to get one and then build confidence so that was a good step for us,” Marin said after her power play goal on Sunday. “Every game is different. Every game you have to be ready because every team is hard to play against. We lost one [Saturday], and we wanted to make sure we were ready to win the game.”
With 12:13 left in the third period on Monday, Calgary coach Kevin Haller – a former Montreal Canadiens defenceman – chose to pull Delayne Brian to turn a 5-on-3 advantage into a 6-on-3 to cut the 3-1 lead. The Stars did a good job to get the kill, and keep the two-goal lead.
“It’s a great idea,” said Stars veteran Julie Chu. “It makes a lot of sense and it gives you an extra person to screen. For the most part on a 5-on-3, the penalty killer is not going to have a great opportunity to fire it down at the net. I think it was a great call.”
The Stars clinched the win on an empty net goal by Casandra Dupuis with 14 seconds left to clinch the three-game series for the Stars.
Chu, who is listed as a forward and who rotated back and forth in the opening game of the series, was moved back to defence for the final two games as the Stars were without Canadian Olympian Lauriane Rougeau after she took a shot off of her foot on Saturday.
“The great thing about our team is that a lot of players have been doing that all season,” Chu said about switching positions mentioning that teammates Sara Dagenais and Chelsea Saunders have also made the switch at some point this season. “I think our ability to own our role whether its myself or somebody else on the team is what makes us successful and allows us to adjust to certain situations and the personnel that we may have on a given day.”
The reality for the Stars is that four points out of six puts them in a very good position. The Clarkson Cup will change formats this year. Instead of a round robin, it will now be a best-of-three series where 1 plays 4 and 2 plays 3 with the two winners playing in the championship.
Calgary is currently one point ahead of Boston, who swept Toronto over the weekend outscoring the defending champions 11-0 in the two games. Montreal is only two points behind second place but eight points up on fourth place Toronto with only six games remaining.
“This was a really important weekend for us. Four points against them this weekend is huge for the long run,” said Sara Dagenais. “The structure that we have at the Clarkson Cup is 2 out of 3 so we need to be able to put out three good games in a row it’s not good enough to just win one.”
“It brings us a lot of confidence but we have to keep going,” she said.
The Stars now go on the road this weekend for two games against the Brampton Thunder who are fighting for a playoff spot. They then return home for back-to-back home stands against the Toronto Furies and Boston Blades to close out the regular season.