5 things to know as Canadiennes, Inferno renew rivalry at Clarkson Cup

Marie-Phlip-Poulin-Les-Canadiennes

Marie-Philip Poulin. (Steven Senne / AP)

You heard it here: Melodie Daoust is going to score the Clarkson Cup game-winner. Or, Blayre Turnbull.

At least, if you ask Sarah Nurse. The Toronto Furies forward, whose team was ousted in the CWHL semifinals, made some bold predictions for Sportsnet ahead of Sunday’s championship game.

The CWHL’s one-game, winner-takes-all will see the top-seeded Calgary Inferno take on the second-seeded Canadiennes de Montreal. And this is quite a rivalry: It’ll mark the third time in four years that these two teams have met for all the marbles. Calgary won in 2016. Montreal won in 2017. This season, Calgary had the 4-2 edge in regular season play, but Les Canadiennes won their last meeting, shutting out the Inferno 3-0.

To get you tuned up for the finale, here are five things you ought to know ahead of Sunday’s Clarkson Cup, with puck drop set for 12 p.m. ET at Toronto’s Coca-Cola Coliseum:

OH, CAPTAIN…

Let’s get the (really, really) bad news out of the way: Montreal sniper Marie-Philip Poulin is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, as per Les Canadiennes.

Poulin didn’t play in Montreal’s three-game semifinal series against Markham a couple weeks ago, and nobody’s given us any hints as to whether the captain will be back in time for Sunday’s final.

If she’s not, it’s a massive loss for Montreal. Poulin had 50 points in 26 games this season, and won the league’s top-scorer award —The Angela James Bowl — for the third time in four years. (She didn’t win it in 2018 because she didn’t play; she spent the year centralized with Team Canada ahead of the Olympics).

Poulin has played in the Clarkson Cup final all four years she’s been in the CWHL, and she’s a big game-player: In her last six playoff games (in 2016 and 2017) she has amassed eight goals and 14 points in just six games. Poulin is also the author of the game-winners the last two times Canada’s women won Olympic hockey gold. Talk about clutch.

Fingers are crossed that Montreal’s top centre, who turns 28 later this month, will be good to go on Sunday, and not just for Montreal, but because hockey games are better with No. 29 in them. She’s fast, shifty, chippy and she might just be the best in the world.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Nurse already took care of some bold predictions, calling Daoust to score the game-winner if Montreal wins, and Turnbull if Calgary takes home the championship. Both, along with Nurse, are members of Canada’s national team.

And in fact, Calgary and Montreal are loaded with national team talent from both sides of the border: There are nine on Les Canadiennes roster, and 14 play for Calgary.

With the Inferno, that includes Brianna Decker, the Team USA star who earlier this season got paid ($25,000) after a social media campaign exploded following her performance at the NHL All-Star game, where she demonstrated the passing drill and nearly won the thing in the process. Decker is fast and physical, in addition to that passing ability. And she’s extra deadly thanks to her (Canadian) linemate Rebecca Johnston, a CWHL MVP, who gets to the dirty areas, creates and also owns a heavy shot. Johnston ranked third overall in CWHL scoring this season.

And speaking of a heavy shot, look out for Inferno defender Kacey Bellamy. The Team USA veteran was the second highest-scoring defenceman in the league this year with 21 points in 26 games.

Les Canadiennes, however, boast the highest-scoring defender in the league in the regular season — Erin Ambrose. The 24-year-old from Keswick, Ont., put up nearly a point per game with 24 in 26.

Among Montreal forwards, there’s plenty of star power up front. Ann-Sophie Bettez is one to keep an eye on, though she may be without her regular linemate Poulin. Bettez ranked second overall in points in the CWHL this season with 48, and she also recently cracked the Canadian national team roster at age 31, after being overlooked since her last stint with Team Canada back in 2011. Fellow Canadian forward Jill Saulnier is another to watch: In the recent Canada-USA rivalry series, Saulnier stood out as one of Canada’s best — the Halifax native has serious jets. She has put up five points in three playoff games so far.

Those two Canadians are joined up front on the Les Canadiennes roster by Hilary Knight, the 29-year-old from California who became the CWHL’s first-ever American born MVP back in her rookie season in the CWHL in 2013. Knight has been tearing up the playoffs so far, too, in Poulin’s absence: In three games, Knight has a post-season leading four goals and eight points.

WHERE TO WATCH AND FOLLOW

You can buy tickets here: and the game is also being broadcast live across Canada (on TVA Sports and Sportsnet) and the U.S. (via the NHL network).

The Sportsnet TV crew is something to behold, too: It includes Caroline Cameron, Cassie Campbell, Leah Hextall, Jennifer Botterill, Nikki Reyes and CWHL MVP candidate Natalie Spooner (her Furies lost in the semifinal to Calgary). Not to toot our own horn or anything, but that crew owns six Olympic gold medals collectively, and that’s just thanks to Botterill, Campbell and Spooner. (Cameron, Hextall and Reyes have yet to wow us on an Olympic stage, but maybe there’s still time.)

In addition to that TV coverage, you’ll want to tune into Sportsnet’s social channels Sunday, because Nurse is taking over. That’s right, we’re handing over the social keys to the Furies rookie. And if you saw her Instagramming from the bench at the CWHL all-star game, you know this is going to be good. Be sure to follow Sportsnet on Instagram, @Sportsnet, so you can see what the 24-year-old is up to on championship Sunday.

CLARKSON WATCHING THE CLARKSON CUP

The trophy’s namesake — former governor general Adrienne Clarkson — will be in the building Sunday.

Now 80 years old, it was Clarkson who suggested during the 2004-05 NHL lockout that since the Stanley Cup wasn’t going to be awarded that year, it should go instead to the top team in women’s hockey. Instead, it was decided pro women needed a cup of their own. Three Inuit artists created this one, which features the flowers of each of Canada’s provinces and territories. The Clarkson Cup has been awarded to the winner of the CWHL since 2009.

And on Sunday, as Clarkson looks on, it’ll be awarded for the 10th time to either Calgary or Montreal.

THERE’S A GOALIE BATTLE COOKING

As much offensive power as we’re going to see in this game, it also features the top two goalies in the CWHL this season, in Montreal’s Emerance Maschmeyer and Calgary’s Alex Rigsby.

Rigsby, who helped Team USA win gold at the last Olympics, finished the regular season with a goals-against average of 2.04 and a 0.916 save percentage. Maschmeyer, a member of the Canadian national team, was the only goalie with better numbers: a 1.45 GAA and a 0.935 save percentage.

We’re giving the edge to Maschmeyer, and not just because of her regular season numbers. She’s on a roll: The Les Canadiennes goalie posted two shutouts in the playoffs already in just three games.

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