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.
There might not be a team capable of rallying around big-game experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs quite like the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks will play for their third NHL championship in six seasons after a 5-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final at Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday. After falling behind 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, the Blackhawks outscored the Ducks 10-5 over the final two games to advance.
The Ducks, meanwhile, lost a Game 7 at home for the third straight season, unable to hold a 3-2 series lead each time.
Claude Noel felt the playoff experience exhibited by the Blackhawks really played a part in them winning the last two games of the series.
"Remember that overtime loss by the Blackhawks [in Game 5]; how devastating a loss that might have been to any other team," Noel said. "You thought 'How could they move forward?' But look what happened. When you talk about playoff experience and drawing on experiences and winning Stanley Cup titles, Chicago has it."
The top players certainly did shine. Center Jonathan Toews scored two goals in the first period to kill any momentum the Ducks might have had in the early stages. Right wing Patrick Kane had three assists, and defenseman Duncan Keith had two assists with a game-high 27:51 of ice time. Keith played 230:48 in the series.
Noel also thought goaltender Corey Crawford came up big when his team needed him most. Crawford made 35 saves in Game 7.
"Crawford was very intense and focused; he was very sharp again," Noel said. "But you look at Toews, Keith, Kane, all these guys were playing so well. It always comes back to key guys in key moments who can make the big plays. It was pretty tough to stop Jonathan Toews [on Saturday]; you don't question that type of leadership."
It made no difference that the Ducks outhit the Blackhawks much of series or that Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was basically limited to using four defensemen after Michal Rozsival sustained an ankle injury in a Game 4 victory.
"You have to look back at the series and remember the questions that were asked," Noel said. "'Could Chicago withstand the weight of Anaheim?' When Rozsival went down, could the forwards take the weight of the all the minutes? It never really played a factor and you have to give all the credit to Chicago. They faced some adversity and just plowed through it. It was almost as if they welcomed the challenge, welcomed the adversity.
"When they went down 3-2 in the series, it was boom, let's go."
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning is Wednesday at Amalie Arena in Tampa (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). Noel expects a classic confrontation. The Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010 and 2013.
"It's going to be great; you have new kids on the block (in Tampa Bay) and then the guys who have been here before (in Chicago)," Noel said. "It's a matchup between two teams with skill and speed. Chicago has been there before and they want to this thing again. I think it is two good teams with offensive flair. Both teams can defend or else you wouldn't be in the Final; both teams are dangerous."