Les Canadiennes enter playoffs as top team

Montreal's top women's hockey team, Les Canadiennes, demolished their Toronto rivals 5-1 in the first game of the Clarkson Cup playoff semi-finals.

First-place team in CWHL prepares to take on Toronto Furies in league semi-finals

Boston Pride's Kelly Cooke (5) handles the puck in front of Montreal Les Canadiennes' Marie-Philip Poulin in the women's Winter Classic. Les Canadiennes begin their playoff series against Toronto on Friday. (Michael Dwyer/The Associated Press)

Montreal's top women's hockey team, Les Canadiennes, demolished their Toronto rivals 5-1 in the first game of the Clarkson Cup playoff semi-finals. 

While its NHL counterpart on the men's side has been floundering, Les Canadiennes had only three losses in 24 games in 2015-2016, finishing far ahead of their next closest competitor, the Calgary Inferno.

The team also boasts the Canadian Women's Hockey League's top four scorers.

The top point-getter, Marie-Philip Poulin, is a four-time Olympian who scored the game-winner for Canada at the Sochi Olympics. 

Caroline Ouellette, who ranked fourth overall, is a former captain of the Canadian Olympic team. 

​Last week, Les Canadiennes finished the season with a dominant performance over the Boston Blades.

It's been incredible to see so many little girls playing hockey and dream of one day becoming a  Canadiennes  de Montréal .- Caroline Ouellette

But Ouellette said her team will face stiff competition in its three-game series against the Toronto Furies, which begins tonight in Montreal.

"We've had some really close games," Ouellette told CBC Montreal's Homerun.

"They are physical. They play with a lot of intensity and they want it the same way we do." 

Increased visibility

It's been a big year for Les Canadiennes and the five-team league, now in its eighth season.

Last September, the team formerly known as the Montreal Stars announced its new name, new logo and new marketing and promotions links to the NHL's Canadiens.

Les Canadiennes also faced off against the Boston Pride of the rival NWHL in its own version of the Winter Classic, ahead of the NHL game between the Habs and Bruins.

Despite the increased attention, however, the league still doesn't generate enough revenue to pay its players, which means the players must also hold down jobs while playing competitive hockey.

Stable foundation

Ouellette said the CWHL still needs to build a stable foundation before it can hand out paycheques, adding that a formal partnership with the NHL would help.

"I think we've seen an increase in our fan base here in Montreal. It's been incredible to see so many little girls playing hockey and dream of one day becoming a Canadiennes de Montréal," Ouellette said.

"The partnership with the Montreal Canadiens has been great as far as visibility. We've worked so hard to get people to know that we're right here and we play with passion and with intensity."

The best of three semi-final begins Friday, Feb. 26 at the Étienne-Desmarteau Arena (3430 Bellechasse) at 6:45 p.m. Game two will be held at Complexe Sportif Bell (8000 Leduc, Brossard) on Saturday. Game three (if necessary) will be held on Sunday in Brossard at 5 p.m. For more details visit the team's website.

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