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Noel: Blackhawks continue to activate defensemen

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

For additional insight on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, NHL.com 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.

Claude Noel said he believes that when everything else becomes equal during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the details of the game make such a huge difference in the outcome.

The Anaheim Ducks were detail-orientated in a 2-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at United Center in Chicago on Thursday. The win gives the Ducks a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 4 is Saturday in Chicago (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"Details such as faceoffs, special teams, key saves and key penalty kills are so important," Noel said. "Game 3 was a game in which both teams played well. Even though Chicago lost, I thought Chicago's big players were really good. [Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick] Kane were strong and the defense was also very good."

Noel pointed out that Anaheim's ability to win the special teams battle played a big part in the victory. The Ducks went 1-for-1 on the power play and the Blackhawks were 0-for-5. The Ducks also had more hits (45-27) and blocked shots (27-9).

Noel said he doesn't believe the Blackhawks need to change much other than finishing against Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen, who made 27 saves in Game 3.

"I saw a lot of good things from Chicago; they were good in offense zone, they were trying to create offense," Noel said. "They weren't able to get a whole ton off of puck possession in the offensive zone as they probably would have liked but they had second and third chances. They managed the puck well and they were creative in the first period but couldn't solve Andersen."

Noel said the Blackhawks tried to become even more aggressive in the third period and that was good to see.

"I thought they tried to use their defense more to activate a lot more offense; they weren't very successful but it just goes to show you that Chicago is not going to sit back and wait for opportunities," Noel said. "Anaheim was patient and the defended well."

Noel charted a sequences during the third period where Chicago's defense continued a relentless pursuit in attempt to tie the game. Though the Blackhawks were unsuccessful, Noel said he liked the urgency they exhibited over the final 20 minutes of regulation.

"When you're down a goal, how do you play?" Noel said. "The Blackhawks played with urgency, they got their defense involved. They used primarily four defensemen to get more offense."

Chicago defensemen totaled seven shots on goal for the game, but that doesn't tell the whole story.

"When you get more aggressive you have to add more people to the offense and you have to be aggressive with your defense and pinch," Noel said. "Cleary you can see that was the case with Chicago in the third period."

Noel highlighted three instances in the opening 10 minutes of the third period where Chicago activated its defensemen off a breakout.

At 1:20 into the third period, Niklas Hjalmarsson began creating from the left point while partner Duncan Keith skated to the front of the net looking for a rebound. This type of aggressiveness is typical for the Blackhawks; coach Joel Quenneville looks to generate offense from the back end as much as possible.

Noel said he was impressed with the way Johnny Oduya pressed the issue 7:20 into the third along the left wing half boards. He not only attempted a shot but kept the puck alive in the Anaheim end.

Hjalmarsson then decided to jump into the play at the 8:23 mark in an attempt to create an opportunity with an aggressive play with his team trailing by one goal.

One interesting switch made along the blue line by Keith and Brent Seabrook at 17:07 enabled the Blackhawks to confuse the Ducks and generate a good scoring opportunity.

"It's a tactic the Blackhawks use where the defense switches; the right defense goes to the left side, and the left goes to the right," Noel said. "It's something many fans might not even notice if you're not paying attention but when you see it happen, you understand how it can confuse the opponent.

"They do it because that's a practiced play done to create confusion for the opposing defense."

Watch how Keith and Seabrook make a seamless switch to create a good opportunity.

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