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Claude Noel: Blackhawks special teams critical in Game 2

by Mike G. Morreale / Chicago Blackhawks

For additional insight on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, has enlisted the help of Claude Noel to break down the action. Noel will be checking in throughout the series.

Noel was coach for the Winnipeg Jets from 2011-14 and interim coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-10. He also coached many years in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Noel, a former forward, had 138 points in 353 regular-season games in the AHL and played seven games in the NHL with Washington Capitals in 1979-80.

The Chicago Blackhawks won the special teams battle and received the secondary scoring required for success in the playoffs in a 3-2 triple-overtime victory against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final at Honda Center on Tuesday.

The victory evened the best-of-7 series 1-1. Game 3 is Thursday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Claude Noel said he felt the Blackhawks were able to immediately dictate play in the early stages after scoring two power-play goals within the first seven minutes of the first period. Chicago finished 2-for-5 with the man advantage while Anaheim went 0-for-5 on the power play.

"Special teams was one of the top storylines in the game for Chicago, as was the play of their third and fourth line and then goalie Corey Crawford," Noel said. "The Blackhawks killed off a big penalty late in the third period (with the game tied 2-2) to Marcus Kruger (holding at 15:03), and then again in the first overtime to [Niklas] Hjalmarsson (tripping at 10:41). Those were game-saving kills."

Noel said he was impressed how Chicago was able to maintain its intensity and focus after failing to score a goal on a 5-on-3 advantage early in the third period.

"Usually when you don't score on a 5-on-3, it doesn't go well for you," Noel said. "You don't usually end up winning that game, but Chicago was able to get the job done."

Kruger scored the game-winner 16:12 into the third overtime and Crawford made 60 saves, including 28 in three overtime periods. Crawford was also the beneficiary of Anaheim hitting the post or crossbar three times in the first two overtimes. Ducks forward Corey Perry had the best chance with an unmarked shot from the slot that Crawford managed to deflect with his pad.

"There were times you wondered if anybody was going to score because it looked like both goalies were in full control," Noel said. "But I thought the winner was a good goal. I thought the play of both teams' third and fourth lines was really big."

Noel pointed to Chicago's third line of Antoine Vermette centering Patrick Sharp and Teuvo Teravainen as one line that seemed to generate a lot more with more ice time. Kruger's line with wings Andrew Desjardins and Andrew Shaw was also very active. Shaw and Marian Hossa scored the power-play goals in the first.

Noel also said he has been very impressed with the play of Chicago's top four defensemen, including Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Hjalmarsson.

"What I thought might become more evident in the OT and as the game went on was the amount of energy that Chicago's top four defensemen were able to withstand," Noel said. "I thought it might be a factor but it wasn't. They were able to play their top four and interchange their fifth and sixth and did a really good job."

Defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey combined to play 34:51. Keith played a game-high 49:51, and Seabrook, Oduya and Hjalmarsson each had 46-plus minutes of ice time. Noel said he doesn't think the workload on Chicago's top four will be a factor in the series.

"The mindset is you realize they are playing heavy minutes but when you're in the moment and when you're coaching your group, you always coach to win," Noel said. "You never coach to save energy. You may recognize there are a lot of minutes being played by these guys but it's the third overtime. You know they might need a little rest so you try and find spots to get them rest.

"But those guys have played a lot of minutes for more than a couple of games, they did it for much of the season. They are used to it and know how to manage ice, how to manage their energy and they're able to make it work."

The series now shifts to Chicago where the Blackhawks are 5-0 in the playoffs. Chicago has outscored the opposition 20-14 at United Center in five postseason games.

"I think both teams are seasoned enough, smart enough to know that regardless of where the game is or what happened in the previous game that they will move on," Noel said. "Will there be any carryover from Game 2 for either team entering Chicago? I don't believe so. I think it will be wild getting into Chicago, but when you get this far you focus on the task and that game. Anaheim knows Chicago will come out flying. Chicago wants to take the lead; they play different with the lead, but it'll be crazy in the place they call the Madhouse."

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