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.
The Chicago Blackhawks are headed to the Stanley Cup Final because their stars were at their best when it counted most, in Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Final, and the Anaheim Ducks' best players were not, according to Frederic Chabot.
"The last two games, Chicago's best players were better than Anaheim's; to me, that was the difference," Chabot said. "They were clutch, they made the big plays, the goalie made the big saves and their D was really good too.
"Anaheim's best players were good for a long, long time. They didn't really have a bad game or a bad outing until late in this semifinal."
The Blackhawks stunned the Ducks and the sellout crowd at Honda Center when Jonathan Toews scored 2:23 into the game and again when he connected on a power play at 11:55. The Ducks were unable to recover and ended up losing 5-3.
Chabot said the Blackhawks' quality of shots was a key factor. Anaheim outshot Chicago 38-26, but the Blackhawks had better-quality chances and were able to capitalize.
"I was impressed with how Chicago played the last two games," he said. "They just kept going from Game 6 [a 5-2 victory], they kept doing what they were doing. They were getting less shots than Anaheim, but Anaheim was creating less. With less shots, they were creating better scoring chances.
"Anaheim was doing a great job forechecking and trying to create offense, and all of a sudden Chicago, because they're so dangerous offensively, gets a good forecheck, a good scoring chance, and boom, it's in the net. You can't really blame [Anaheim goaltender Frederik] Andersen on that; he was by himself with two Chicago players when that shot came on net. I think it was a little deflating for Anaheim, how Chicago took an early lead, 2-0, and it took them a while to get the forecheck going again."
When the Ducks did get their forecheck working, they had to contend with Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford. Chabot felt Crawford's experience edge on Andersen made a real difference.
"For me, Crawford was the most consistent player on Chicago for that series. He was good pretty much every game," Chabot said. "He made the saves he had to make, and he made a few more. [Game 7] was like Game 6; it was a good example of how his playoff experience really paid off. He felt very comfortable in that environment.
"You look at Andersen, even though he played pretty good the last two games, he didn't quite look like himself. He couldn't quite pull the big saves the way Crawford did."
One thing that really impressed Chabot was the way the Blackhawks stood up to the physical pounding they faced from the bigger, stronger Ducks. Anaheim spent the entire series hitting every Blackhawk in sight, but Chabot felt all that hitting didn't have any measureable effect on Chicago's stars.
"It was impressive to see how Chicago, even though they got hit a lot and had to put up with a lot of physical play from Anaheim, they seemed to get better as the series went on," he said. "They got stronger, they got better. It was impressive to see."
The Blackhawks will be trying to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in six seasons when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Final beginning Wednesday at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Like the Blackhawks, the Lightning had to win Game 7 of their conference final on the road. They did, defeating the New York Rangers 2-0 at Madison Square Garden on Friday.
Chabot said he hasn't seen a lot of Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, but has been impressed by his resilience. Bishop allowed five goals to the Rangers in Games 4 and 6, but bounced back with shutouts on the road in Games 5 and 7.
"He's been pretty steady all year," Chabot said of Bishop, "and when he has a bad outing he seems to bounce back really quickly and play well. That's a good sign for them."
Each of the conference finals went seven games, the first time that's happened since 2000. Chabot believes the Stanley Cup Final could also go the distance.
"I thought the last series with Anaheim would go a long way, and it did," he said. "I would not be surprised if it's the same in the next round."