The intense hockey rivalry between Boston and Montreal is set to grow Saturday afternoon when the CWHL’s Boston Blades take on the Montreal Stars in the Clarkson Cup final.
Boston, led by its high-powered offense, will take on a Montreal squad that has yet to surrender a goal in the Clarkson Cup playoffs thanks to the steady goaltending of Charline Labonte.
Labonte, 32, stopped all 62 shots that came her way in Montreal’s back-to-back shutout wins over the second-seeded Calgary Infernos. Calgary, which came into the playoffs after finishing four points ahead of the Stars in the standings, went down in two straight games, losing 4-0 and 2-0 to Montreal.
Boston’s path to the final was just as dominating. After shutting out Toronto 3-0 in the first game of the best-of-three set, the Blades came out firing in the second game, lambasting the Furies 7-3 on the strength of a three-goal, five-point outing by Hilary Knight. Picking up the victory over Toronto is a measure of revenge for Boston, too. Last season they fell in overtime to the Furies and had to watch as Toronto celebrated their first Clarkson Cup victory.
For added intrigue, the one-game, winner takes all matchup between the Blades and Stars could either add to Montreal’s CWHL dominance or make Boston their nearest rival. In the past six seasons, Montreal has taken home three Clarkson Cups, while no other team has won multiple times. However, Boston, with a win Saturday, would become the second team to win the league title at least twice.
Boston’s first championship came in 2013, when they downed Montreal, who was appearing in the final for the third straight season, 5-2 on the strength of a Kelley Steadman hat trick.
When it comes to Saturday’s final, the game will likely come down to a battle between Labonte’s incredible goaltending and Boston’s balanced attack.
In 16 regular season games, Labonte posted a 9-7-0-2 record with a 1.89 goals-against average and .927 save percentage and was arguably the best goaltender in women’s hockey. However, the Blades paced the league by posting a goal differential of plus-51, more than two and a half times the CWHL’s second-best mark.
Knight and teammate Brianna Decker combined to be one of the CWHL’s top scoring duos, as both registered outrageous totals. In 12 games this season, Decker scored 16 goals and 32 points, while Knight added eight goals and 22 points of her own in 13 contests. That’s not to mention blueliner Tara Watchorn, who scored six goals and 20 points in 21 games or Jillian Dempsey, whose nine goals and 19 points were ninth in the CWHL. With four of the top 10 scorers in the league, the Blades offense has serious potential to run away with the championship in the one-game playoff.
Decker, with two goals and six points, and Knight, who scored all five of her points in the series clinching win over Toronto, are one-two in playoff scoring.
Saturday’s game starts at 2 p.m. EST and is available for streaming at CWHL.ca (http://cwhl.ca/view/cwhl) and can be watched live on Rogers Sportsnet.