-- It's this time of year that makes John Madden
invaluable to the Chicago Blackhawks
The 37-year-old center, who signed with the Hawks as a free agent last summer after spending nine seasons with the New Jersey Devils
, has been a mentor and a calming influence to a team loaded with youth -- and one that is two wins away from a Stanley Cup championship.
Madden and the Blackhawks arrived at the Wachovia Center on Tuesday afternoon to begin preparations for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, which will be played on Wednesday night. Chicago enters with a 2-0 series lead after winning a pair of one-goal games at the United Center.
Without question, Madden's presence and his experience will play a huge role in whether or not the Blackhawks can win their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Not only has Madden played in the NHL for more than a decade, but he's won Stanley Cup championships with the Devils in 2000 and 2003. He knows what it takes, and admitted on Tuesday that his younger teammates have relied on him for advice during this exciting time.
"There's been a lot of talk … 1-on-1s with a few guys," said Madden, who had 10 goals and 13 assists during the regular season. "Lots of questions about my experience playing in this building or in certain Finals and certain things that have happened, and I just shared my experience. But my role on this team has just been to try to provide a solid, steady fourth-line center."
But the Blackhawks know Madden has provided much more than that.
"I think Johnny Madden's been great for us," coach Joel Quenneville
said. "I think his experience, in a lot of different ways, is a key factor to our team as far as in the locker room. On the ice practices, he knows how to have fun at the right times. His approach is just what you look for."
After finishing 18th in the League in penalty-killing last season, the Blackhawks signed Madden on the opening day of free agency in an attempt to drastically improve in that department. They finished fourth in 2009-10 at 85.3 percent.
"I think the one area immediately this year that we were looking to be improved upon in our team game was our penalty killing," Quenneville said. "I think he really enhanced it. We moved up from being one of the lower-tiered teams last year to one of the top teams this year. I think he's been a pivotal part of that."
More important, he's helped Chicago's young stars, namely Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Kane
. There's a lot of much pressure on that duo to being the Blackhawks their first championship in almost 50 years, so it's up to a veteran such as Madden to help alleviate it. Given what he's already accomplished in the NHL, he appears to be the perfect fit.
"At this time of year, his experience is huge for us -- the young guys particularly," Quenneville said. "Guys that haven't played at this time of the year, I think the little things that he can say or do is noted."
Madden will likely spend the next 24 hours describing to his teammates about the Wachovia Center and what to expect from what will certainly be a raucous bunch of orange-and-black faithful. Madden has plenty of memories from his time with the Devils and the fierce rivalry they share with Philadelphia, but knows he'll have it better than the few courageous folks who show up wearing red, white and black.
"They're definitely loud and they're definitely into the game," Madden said of Philly's faithful. "It's safer to be playing on the ice than to be a Chicago fan in the stands."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL