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.
The defense of the Chicago Blackhawks proved too much for the Anaheim Ducks in a 5-2 victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday at United Center in Chicago.
Claude Noel felt Chicago's top four on the back end were relentless and Duncan Keith was the driving force. With the win the Blackhawks improved to 12-1 when playing a Game 6 since 2009, and are 10-4 when facing elimination over that period.
Game 7 is Saturday at Honda Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"Chicago's defense had a big night; I thought they played well and carried their team," Noel said. "They were good on the breakout, and I thought they were good on counters. They were good in the offensive zone, getting a lot of pucks near the net. They didn't necessarily result in shots, but they were very involved the whole game in those three areas (breakouts, counters, offensive zone time)."
Leading the way for Chicago on defense were Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Keith, who logged a game-high 28:35 in ice time, blocked four shots and finished with three assists. It was Keith's fourth multipoint game of the playoffs.
The team's fifth and sixth defensemen, Kyle Cumiskey (7:15 ice time) and David Rundblad (5:53) were limited throughout.
"He's really good for a lot of reasons," Noel said of Keith. "He's smart, quick and has good foot speed. He gets the puck and makes great outlet passes. Just look at that play he made to (Brandon) Saad on Chicago's first goal in the second period off that counter up the middle."
Keith averages 31:49 of ice time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to lead all players, and is first among defensemen with 16 points and a plus-11 rating.
"What really separates him from everyone else is his quickness; he's quick to pucks and he's smart," Noel said. "He knows where people are before he gets the puck, knows where he's going and what he's doing. The one other thing that makes him special is the fact he can play heavy minutes. Some guys can play big minutes, but after 18 minutes they can't handle it. Keith can."
In addition to effective breakouts and counters, Noel pointed to faceoffs and puck possession as key areas in the second period for the Blackhawks. Chicago scored three goals in a span of 3:45 to open a 3-0 lead.
The Blackhawks held a 33-17 advantage in faceoff wins in the game.
"Faceoffs were huge through two periods because Chicago was almost doubling Anaheim," Noel said. "Chicago won key faceoffs in their own zone and in the offensive zone they were dominant on the draws."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went 10-for-12 on faceoffs. He was 5-for-7 against Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf and 2-for-2 against Ryan Kesler.
Noel said Chicago did run into trouble in the third period when the Ducks outshot the Blackhawks 13-4 but could only generate one goal against goaltender Corey Crawford (30 saves).
"In the third there were a lot of puck battles along the boards in the defensive zone for Chicago, a lot of heavy play," Noel said. "Chicago couldn't get it out and they couldn't get anything going. They barely got the red line, and it was back in their end."
Keith, a two-time Norris Trophy winner, swept away a tipped shot by Anaheim's Corey Perry along the goal line less than four minutes into the third with Chicago holding a 3-2 lead.
"I really felt that this was a point in the game, the series, where you would have seen the Chicago defense begin to really wear down and look fatigued but they got the key saves," Noel said. "They made the right plays and got the big goal by Andrew Shaw (at 16:28 for a 4-2 lead)."
The Blackhawks have an all-time record of 6-6 in Game 7s, and the Ducks are 2-4. Each team lost a Game 7 against the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anaheim blew a 3-2 series lead against the Kings in the second round, and the Blackhawks lost 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.
"When you have one game, you really don't know how it will go," Noel said. "Chicago's experience in winning a Stanley Cup before will pay dividends, as will that extra day of rest.
"It'll come down to the usual things like turnovers, momentum, special teams and key saves. You don't know who will get them, but that's what makes Game 7 so great. For Chicago to have success, they'll need to skate and move the puck as they did in Game 6; how well they break out of their zone will be very important."