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Blades' depth players shine as they beat Montreal in final regular season games

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Brianna Decker was held without a point for the first time since she joined the team, but the rest of the Blades' offense chipped in to give them two hard-fought wins versus the Montreal Stars. The Clarkson Cup matchups are set, and Boston now goes on to face Toronto in a best-of-three series for a chance to compete in the Final.

Blades celebrate their 2-1 victory in Montreal on Saturday, Februrary 28.
Blades celebrate their 2-1 victory in Montreal on Saturday, Februrary 28.
Zoë Hayden

The Boston Blades traveled to Montreal this weekend with first place in the CWHL on the line, and they defended it thanks to depth scoring and strong team defense.  The Blades and Stars showed that they may be the two best teams in the league heading into the playoffs, though the matchups are set: Boston will retain #1 and face Toronto (#4) in a best-of-three series, and Montreal (#3) will face Calgary (#2).

Saturday night's matchup saw the Blades with a slightly shortened bench, as we've seen a few times this season, using only 10 forwards and relying primarily on two lines.  They also were without the services of Monique Lamoureux on defense.  Their makeshift first line used Brianna Decker at center, along with Casey Pickett and Jordan Smelker.  Despite the firepower that Decker has brought to the Blades' offense, the game quickly established itself as a goaltender's battle, with Brittany Ott facing off against Charline Labonté.  Jillian Dempsey scored the first goal of the game about 9 minutes into the first period, off a scramble in front of Labonté.

Early in the second, after the Blades killed off a holding penalty to Alyssa Gagliardi, Bray Ketchum would put them up 2-0.  The goal came off a turnover, and Ketchum released a tricky wrist shot that fooled Labonté as it popped up over her left shoulder.  This is not the type of goal that Labonté typically gives up, and the Stars responded with strong penalty killing and a threatening power play, but Ott was equal to the task.  In the final minute of the period, it appeared as though they had scored to cut the lead in half, but the officials ruled that the puck had been kicked in past Ott.

Noémie Marin cut the Blades' lead in half for real just one minute into the third period with a perfectly placed shot blocker side.  The Stars worked hard to tie the game, aggressively piling around Ott's crease at times.  Julie Chu got multiple shots off in the third period, including several shorthanded, but Ott would hold the fort for the 2-1 win.

This was the first time that Brianna Decker had been held without a point in a game.  Montreal defended her well, frequently matching her against Cathy Chartrand (D) and Caroline Oullette (F), veteran two-way players for the Stars.  The Blades' depth scoring, combined with a rare mistake by Labonté, was the difference in this game, as the Blades were able to keep pace with Montreal's defense.

Sunday's 1PM rematch quickly became a much closer, rougher checking game.  The Blades gained Jessica Koizumi, Meghan Duggan, and Jenny Potter (wearing Kelli Stack's jersey, modified with a makeshift nameplate) to their lineup, and were able to roll lines with ease.  Geneviève Lacasse started in net for Boston and Montreal turned to Catherine Herron in their last home game of the season.

The Stars had a strong start, playing physically, and intimidating the Blades away from Herron's crease.  Despite two power plays in the first, they found themselves down again after a goal in the final ten seconds by Corinne Buie, who took a perfect pass from the boards by Jenny Potter as she was driving to the net. 

The second period would become a special teams battle for the Blades, as they took three consecutive penalties within the first four minutes, going from having a power play to being down by two skaters for minutes at a time.  Lacasse played her best period of the entire season, stopping all 11 Montreal shots, many of which came with multiple players in the blue paint.

Potter got her first goal for the Blades in her first shift of the third period, assisted by both Duggan and Decker.  Just two and a half minutes on the power play, Kacey Bellamy took a slapshot from the left point that found its way past Herron, and the Blades were up 3-0.  After that, the Blades paraded to the box yet again on some penalties that went pretty hotly contested as the game got even more physical along the boards.  Ann-Sophie Bettez would convert to break Lacasse's shutout on the last of these at 17:19, but the Stars were unable to score again despite pulling Herron with two minutes left.  The 3-1 score in the final Blades game of the regular season would stand.

Boston's record against Toronto is extremely convincing heading into the Clarkson Cup playoffs, but Montreal and Calgary have traded wins this season quite a bit, and by larger scoring margins.  It isn't unlikely that these teams will meet again for the Cup.  But first, the Blades will have to get past Christina Kessler's goaltending, and keep their offense on a roll in their upcoming series against Toronto.  I'll be there in Markham, with any luck, to let you know how it goes.