For additional insight into the Anaheim Ducks during the Western Conference Final series, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Frederic Chabot to break down the action. Chabot will be checking in throughout the series.
Chabot was the goaltending coach for the Edmonton Oilers from 2009 to 2014. He played in the NHL for five seasons, spending time with the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings.
The Anaheim Ducks are in the Western Conference Final for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007. Save for forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and defenseman Francois Beauchemin, no other current Ducks players were on that 2007 roster.
That may have been why the Ducks got off to a slow start in Game 1 on Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks, but goalie Frederik Andersen made several key saves to lead the Ducks through the rough patch and instill confidence in his teammates, according to Frederic Chabot.
"What was good from him was his start," Chabot said. "He was really, really good at the start and settled things down for his team and made them feel comfortable in the pace of the game. After that their physicality and their forechecking and their transition took over. But early on Andersen was the difference."
With the game scoreless about five minutes into the first period, Anaheim attempted to break out of its defensive zone when the puck slid off Getzlaf's stick. It careened into the path of Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who skated in on Andersen all alone. Andersen sprawled out and used every inch of his wingspan and goal stick to get a piece of Kane's shot on an open net.
"It makes you and your team feel good that they just escaped one there. And now you feel like the bounces are going your way so you gain momentum from that," Chabot said of Andersen's save on Kane. "It was a big point in the game."
Though Anaheim may have been the favorite in each of its first two playoff series, against the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames, this series, as it began, felt much different. Chabot said if the Ducks are going to win, Andersen will need to be the better than Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.
"If you're going to win the playoffs you need your goalie to step up at different times," Chabot said. "Times in the game where your team is not playing as well or you're taking penalties or the other team is just playing really, really good and you need your goalie to hold you in and give you a chance. And Andersen did that Sunday."
This is the deepest Andersen has taken a team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's uncharted waters, which means uncharted experiences.
"Most of the time he was really in control and everything, but there were a couple of times when he needed to come out of his game plan and make some athletic saves and he did," Chabot said. "He was a really big player for Anaheim."
Andersen made 32 saves compared to Crawford's 23, with the difference coming in the first period when Andersen made 16 saves and Crawford made six. Anaheim led 1-0 after the first.
"Andersen came up with more big saves, and more saves because he faced more work early on," Chabot said. "Andersen, like the whole team, they need to be on the top of their games to beat the Blackhawks."
And after Andersen helped the Ducks find their footing in the early parts of Game 1, they got back to their game plan of tight forechecking and playing physically. The Ducks sent bodies to the net to create traffic in front of Crawford and exploited Blackhawks defenseman David Rundblad, who made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut in place of the injured Michal Rozsival. Rundblad was on the ice for Anaheim's first two goals.
"It seemed like the two top lines nullified each other, but like we've been talking about many times, Anaheim's depth. They got four goals from the second and third lines [combined]," Chabot said. "Their depth made a difference, their physicality made a difference. And even though they didn't have the best start, they stayed with their game.
"Their transition was really good, and again, the forecheck scored two goals."
Chabot said he expects a better performance from the Blackhawks in Game 2 on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). But if the Ducks can continue to slow the game down, they will be in a good position.
"As the game progressed you saw Anaheim being able to establish its neutral-zone strategy and create turnovers and keep Chicago from using its great transition game," Chabot said. "You don't want to play a run-and-gun game with Chicago; you're going to end up on the losing end. Anaheim did that well on Sunday."