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Noel: Blackhawks helped, hurt by fatigue in Game 5

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 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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.

There is an explanation for the sudden twists and turns that have taken place over the past two games in the Western Conference Final between the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks: fatigue.

Claude Noel said he witnessed it Monday in Game 5 at Honda Center in Anaheim when the Ducks blew a 4-2 lead late in the game but pulled out a 5-4 victory on Matt Beleskey's goal 45 seconds into overtime. The Ducks hold a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series that resumes Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

It marked the third overtime game of the series and first overtime loss by the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after four straight wins.

"Clearly fatigue has set into the series for both teams and not just one team," Noel said. "What happens when a team is fatigued and tired is you begin to be late everywhere. There's not much of a forecheck, you turn the puck over, you're late for puck races, there's bad execution and players can't find each other because they don't work hard enough to get open."

Noel said fatigue may have played a part in spurts during Game 4, but it came in waves during Game 5.

"Chicago might have been guilty of that in the first period (on Monday), Anaheim in the second and both teams in the third," he said. "You just never know."

Jonathan Toews scored his sixth and seventh goals of the postseason with goaltender Corey Crawford on the bench to erase a 4-2 deficit. His goal with 1:50 remaining off a one-timed pass from Marian Hossa from inside the left circle pulled Chicago within 4-3.

"What you're looking for with the goalie pulled is getting the puck deep to the goal line and you have to be real strong along the boards," Noel said. "You have to win the puck battles and one of your players has to go hard to the net because you're trying to get second and third opportunities.

"The defending team plays to the inside and the attacking team plays to the outside, so you have to penetrate and that's why you need someone at the net."

That's precisely what happened on Toews' goal that pulled Chicago within one. The puck was moved down low to Hossa, who fed Toews for the one-timer while Brandon Saad bulled his way to the net for a partial screen on Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen.

Toews scored his second of the game with 37 seconds left on a low shot from the left corner from the goal line that glanced off Andersen's left skate and into the net for a 4-4 tie.

"That one caught everyone off guard," Noel said. "It was a great play by Toews to make something happen."

The winning goal in overtime may have been a result of fatigue on the part of Chicago.

"It looked to me like Bryan Bickell was going for a line change but didn't get the puck deep; Johnny Oduya was also going off for a change," Noel said. "They turned the puck over and it's a 2-on-1 in the other direction, but fatigue does that. You're going for the line change and those things happen.

"That might seem like a demoralizing loss, but you know Chicago will come out strong in Game 6. It's basically about who can recover and rest before the start of the next game, but there's no doubt all this stuff catches up with you; the pressure, the overtimes, the number of games and the travel."

The Blackhawks have trailed a series 3-2 four times since 2010 and forced a Game 7 on three occasions, including the 2014 Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings. They are 6-1 at United Center in the playoffs.

"I will say this, the resiliency of each team is something else," Noel said. "It's hard to maintain the intensity that each of these teams have played with, and mistakes happen. The team that takes advantage of those moments has the advantage.

"If you're not fleet of foot on the ice, these types of games are very hard to play."

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