For additional insight into the Anaheim Ducks during the Western Conference Final, 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.
When things get tight, as they normally do in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, games can be won and lost in the high-danger areas. The space around the goal crease, where it can be costly physically to enter or defend, can be a difference maker when it comes to the outcome of a game.
The Anaheim Ducks defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 on Thursday in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final in large part because of how well Anaheim played in front of each net, according to Frederic Chabot.
The Ducks lead the best-of-7 series 2-1. Game 4 is Saturday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"One of the differences last night was Anaheim was better at both ends," Chabot said. "They were better in front of their own net helping [goalie Frederik] Andersen, and they were also better in front of Chicago's net making [goalie Corey] Crawford's life difficult."
All three goals scored were influenced by plays made in front of each goaltender, while other plays made throughout the game near the creases also were critical to its outcome. On Anaheim's first goal, forward Patrick Maroon scored a power-play goal on a deflection in front with teammate Corey Perry screening Crawford.
Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane scored on a spinning, backhand shot from between the circles to tie the game. The game-winning goal, scored by Ducks defenseman Simon Despres, was created by Crawford losing track of the play because of traffic in front of him.
"It's hard work; you get tired, you get tired of not seeing, and you get tired of having to battle for sightlines all the time," Chabot said.
In the crease play has been virtually even. Andersen and Crawford have faced 117 and 115 shots, respectively. Chabot said both goalies have been very good but he's especially been impressed with the play of Andersen.
"Andersen had a few key moments last night where really good players on Chicago's side had very good opportunities and he came up with the save," Chabot said.
Known for being a technically sound goalie, grounded in his crease and someone who doesn't need a lot of extra movement, Chicago's up-tempo offense has forced Andersen to play a different style at times. But Chabot said Andersen has handled it well.
"What I like about him is he's a very good technical goalie, but at the same time when he's out there he just plays," Chabot said. "If he needs to come out of his style to make a save, it happens. He doesn't have to think about it; he just goes out there and plays the game. He's got a really good hockey sense."
Chabot said there's also a physical toll Crawford is paying with all the traffic he's being forced to navigate with the bodies Anaheim is sending toward the crease.
"It is a lot of hard work; it is really, really hard," Chabot said. "You could see Crawford on a few occasions last night, not just the puck but he couldn't see the entire play. He was late on the play on the second goal and he just couldn't pick up the puck at the far blue [line], and he never saw the pass to Despres.
"Anaheim did a really good job of creating traffic and chaos last night."
The Ducks also handled the adversity of their 3-2 triple-overtime loss in Game 2 well, according to Chabot. The defeat was the Ducks' second of the playoffs, each coming in overtime. And each was followed by an Anaheim victory.
"They have a lot of maturity through their lineup, which makes a big, big difference on how to respond to a crisis like losing in overtime," Chabot said. "You ask them to stay level and that's why I think they can bounce back and win even after losing an emotional game."
As has been the case through Anaheim's 12 games this postseason, Chabot said the Ducks need to stick to their game plan entering Game 4 and continue to do whatever they can to neutralize the Blackhawks' speed.
"Chicago tried really hard to get the transition game going with long passes and regroups, and they were working really hard trying to create," Chabot said. "But Anaheim was there all the time. They were on their heels, they were back-pressuring, they were stealing pucks, they were knocking pucks away. And that was the difference to me."