The Thunder settled into the routine in China playing better all-round team games, featuring two great goalie duels. Though both games were very tight, a lackluster power play coupled with being outshot 77 to 58, were Markham’s undoing.
Erica Howe got the nod for the Thunder in net and Noora Räty took her spot in Kunlun’s net. The game got off to a fast and physical start, not unlike the previous series the teams played in Markham. Karolina Urban took the game’s first penalty, a hook. Shortly after the successful kill, Urban found herself in the box again, this time for body checking. Red Star did not let the second opportunity go to waste as Melanie Jue (Llanes, Anderson) took the puck from in front of a crowded crease and put it bar down over Howe’s glove. Six minutes later, Megan Delay moved the puck up to Nicole Brown who dished it to Kristen Richards. Richards spun away from the defender and slid the puck past Räty to tie the game at 1-1. Jessica Wong sat for two minutes after being called for roughing. On the ensuing power play, Jamie Lee Rattray let off a good shot that went up high on Räty who turned it away, the puck went straight up in the air and then back down into her equipment. The Thunder kept the pressure on until the end of the period, but no one would score and we would head into the intermission tied.
The second period started with some 4-on-4 action as Jessica Hartwick (roughing) and Stephanie Anderson (slashing) were given coincidental minors at the end of the opening frame. Neither team could find the back of the net, and as all returned to even strength, Devon Skeats was sent off for kneeing. With the kill complete, the physicality continued. Kunlun was sent to the box four times – Jessica Wong for a cross check, Anderson for slashing, Annina Rajahuhta with a high stick, and Shiann Darkangelo for cross checking. The Thunder continued to search for an avenue to send the puck deep, but Räty and the Red Star penalty kill units kept the offense at bay. Kunlun tried to get a late goal, but Howe made a great stop and the teams remained tied after 40 minutes.
After the puck dropped on the third frame, Rajahuhta fought off two Thunder players to bring the puck through the crease and tucked it behind Howe to break the stalemate. A few minutes later Kelli Stack was sent to the box for slashing, but once again, the Thunder were unable to find the back of the net. Shortly after the power play ended, Kunlun got a 5-on-3 advantage as Hartwick and Urban were sent packing for a slash and a hold on the same play. It didn’t take long for Stack to send the puck towards Howe, who went down to make the save, but it squeaked through giving Kunlun a 3-1 lead. Markham set up in the offensive zone and Jamie Lee Rattray took a shot that went through traffic, trickled through Räty and got some help from an opponent’s stick to draw the Thunder back within one. Right after the goal, Richards went off to the penalty box for tripping. Thankfully, Howe and the PK unit didn’t give Kunlun an inch. With the clock winding down, Head Coach Jackson made the decision to pull Howe for the extra attacker. It didn’t take long for Kunlun to get the puck and Stack put it in the empty net. With less than 30 seconds left, Anderson was called for a high stick, and once again Markham pressured with the extra skater, but the game would end with the final score of 4-2.
Liz Knox guarded the Thunder net, facing off against Räty at the other end of the ice. A couple minutes into the period, Hartwick was on the receiving end of a headbutt from Rachel Llanes. The Athletic Therapist was called to the ice as Hartwick got up slowly – she did not return. There was no call on the play, but it wasn’t long after when the Thunder would get their first chance with the advantage as Rajahuhta sat for high sticking. Taylor Woods forced Räty to make a blocker save early in the power play, but were unable to sustain pressure in the Red Star’s zone. Darkangelo shot the puck wide of the Thunder net, intentionally creating a bounce off the boards that popped the puck back up to the side of the net. The Kunlun forward went in for the rebound, but Knox followed the trick shot all the way and covered the puck. Richards was sent off for a hook, but the Thunder penalty kill was ready. Zoe Hickel took the puck behind the net then passed it out in front to Rajahuhta who took a shot. Knox stopped it with her pad, but the rebound came out to the side and Hickel got through traffic to bury it in the net.
The second frame started with the Thunder killing the remainder of Rattray’s tripping penalty. Knox came up huge, making key saves – she tracked Hickel and made a stop with her right pad and one in close on Llanes. Back at full strength, Knox foiled another attempt as Anderson sent a pass across to Llanes who tried to tip it in. Rattray stripped Darkangelo of the puck at the Red Star’s blue line, spun around to block Wong from the puck, shot it backhanded while facing away from the net and Räty was forced to make a quick save. Zhixin Liu took down Fielding Montgomery, and the Thunder went on the power play. Markham could not set themselves up and the penalty was killed off. Taylor Woods made a pass up to Rattray who was waiting at centre ice. She carried it over the blue line, shot the puck through the defender’s legs, then went back for the rebound off of Räty’s pads, but the glove save was made. Shortly after, King forced a turnover at the Thunder’s blue line, and once again sent Rattray up along the boards into the offensive zone. She took the shot from the top of the circle, but Räty’s glove was there once more. Kunlun came back into the Thunder’s zone, but they quickly got the puck back. While finding the best avenue out of the zone, Lindsay Grigg lost an edge in front of Knox, leaving the puck in the slot. Luckily, Knox and Alexis Woloschuk were able to stop the attacking players. Unfortunately, Woloschuk took a hooking penalty in the process, and the Thunder were back on the kill. Knox continued to hold down the fort, with a little help from a post, keeping Markham close. Devon Skeats got a tripping penalty at the end of the period, so the Thunder would once again start a period down a skater.
Knox continued making key saves before Skeats returned to the ice, and afterward including a little windmill action to rob Rajahuhta. After a blast from the point, Knox thought she had the puck in her equipment, but it found its way to the blue paint behind her. Barbara came in and helped out her goalie keeping the puck from crossing the goal line. With 14 minutes left in the period, Urban was sent to the box for a high stick as her stick caught Taylor Marchin on the shoulder. Once back at 5-on-5 play, Lui had a chance for Kunlun, but Knox was there. Jue came in late after Knox had the puck covered, so she was sent off for slashing. On the power play Woloschuk was able to get a hard slapshot on a rebound, but that shot just missed the net. Both teams remained frantic, the Thunder looking to tie the game, and the Red Star searching for an insurance goal. With Knox pulled for the extra attacker, there was a scuffle just inside Markham’s blue line as Anderson checked Woods up high and Simmonds came to the defense of her teammate. Anderson was giving a two minute minor and a game misconduct for head contact. The Thunder pressures on the power play – a 6-on-4 with the extra attacker – but were unable to send it to extra time.
All game photos courtesy of Visual China and the CWHL