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Noel: Experience paid off for Lightning in Game 7

by Mike G. Morreale /

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings, 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.

The Tampa Bay Lightning proved even the highest-scoring team in the regular season will sometimes need to check and defend all over the ice to win the big game.

That's precisely what the Lightning did on the way to a 2-0 victory against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Amalie Arena on Wednesday. The win enabled the Lighting to advance to the second round against the Montreal Canadiens.

Tampa Bay and Montreal will play Game 1 of the best-of-7 series Friday at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Claude Noel liked what he saw from the Lightning and Red Wings in a thrilling Game 7.

"Tampa Bay is an excellent team, but when you got to go to the well and win 1-0 or 2-0 games, you have to be prepared to check and that's why, ultimately, solid defense and checking wins championships," Noel said. "What that win for Tampa Bay proves to me is that the experiences Tampa has gone through in the past have made them a much more mature team in tougher situations.

"This is a young team, they had a tough experience in the playoffs last year [after being swept in the first round by the Canadiens], but I think they learned from it."

Defenseman Braydon Coburn scored 3:58 into the third period and goaltender Ben Bishop made 31 saves for the Lightning, who advanced past the first round for the first time since 2011. Noel said the discrepancy in the shot totals was a bit deceiving. The Red Wings held a 31-16 advantage.

"When people look at the shots they may think it was a dominating effort [by the Red Wings] but I didn't see it that way," Noel said. "I thought Tampa Bay had quite a few good opportunities, especially in the second period despite being outshot (9-5) in that period. I thought they had good zone time, both teams were coming."

Noel also thought the goalies played hard amidst a tense atmosphere.

"I thought Bishop played hard; I think he was nervous in the early going and I thought Detroit was smart to get pucks to the net on him, but I thought he settled down and started to play very well in the third (when he made eight saves)," Noel said.

Noel wasn't surprised to see a player not known for big playoff goals score the game-winner. The goal by Coburn was just his third in 79 career playoff games. Coburn, acquired by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, played in four regular-season games with the team before sustaining a fractured foot that kept him sidelined until the start of the playoffs.

"On the goal, Tampa Bay had good zone time and were battling along the wall," Noel said. "That type of effort resulted in their game. It was a dump-in play, and there was a good forecheck. (Ryan) Callahan picked it up, took it out and made a cross-ice pass to Coburn for what was more of a seeing-eye shot that didn't have a lot of mustard, but that's what happens when the puck gets changed from side-to-side. It was a perfect shot."

Noel thought the Detroit defense, minus a suspended Niklas Kronwall and injured Marek Zidlicky for Game 7, did an exceptional job throughout.

"Those were two players missed from the lineup, but I thought they played a really good game," Noel said. "Detroit didn't miss a beat, really.

"But Tampa Bay played poised and confident. When you look at the history of the Detroit Red Wings and their ability to win with the way they play, you've got to earn your stripes to beat them in seven games, and the Lighting were able to do that."

Despite the fact Steven Stamkos didn't score a goal in the series, Noel liked the energy and leadership the Lightning captain exhibited throughout every game.

"I thought [Stamkos] played well again [in Game 7]; he didn't score but when you're the top scoring team in the League somebody other than one guy is scoring, so there's depth there and there's ways to win," Noel said. "When one of your top players doesn't score in the playoffs, you're going to win by how well you check and how well you defend and in this particular game both teams checked well.

"Tampa Bay waited for the goal, but they have other offensive guys who can play well," Noel said. "Who would have thought that two defensemen [Coburn and Anton Stralman, who scored into an empty net] would have scored both goals in the deciding game."

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