CHICAGO — Brandon Saad may be just 20 years old, the same number he wears on his Blackhawks sweater, but his first career playoff goal proved to be a very important one.
Saad’s tally at 3:08 of the second period in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final cut the Bruins’ lead in half and started the Blackhawks’ climb back into the contest.
Dave Bolland and Johnny Oduya brought the home team all the way back in the third period, setting the stage for what turned out to be a triple-overtime battle that ended with Andrew Shaw’s deciding goal at 12:08.
“It felt great,’’ said Saad, who had nine shots on net in the game, second only to teammate Marian Hossa. “Especially in a game like that, when we were down, 2-0, to cut the lead in half. It was a big goal and it felt really good. You always want to produce out there and it didn’t happen before so I’m glad it happened the last game.’’
Coach Joel Quenneville was so impressed with Saad’s play he opted to elevate him to the top line with Hossa and center Jonathan Toews.
“It means a lot,’’ said Saad. “For them to show the confidence in me helps you get more confidence in yourself. So to get back on the line with Jonny and Hoss meant a lot.’’
Toews has proven to be a mentor for Saad and the rookie said it has made a world of difference.
“He’s probably been the biggest help this year,’’ said Saad. “Just being around him, he doesn’t even need to say anything, but to see the things he does helps out a lot and to be able to play with him helps out even more.’’
Saad, who had 10 goals and 17 assists in 46 gamess during the regular season, said his role really doesn’t change much no matter the line to which he is assigned.
“You still want to work hard and do the little things,’’ he said. “You obviously want to produce a little more playing on those top lines. Even on the third line, you still want to play your game and get points out there. To play with them, I guess it’s a little bit more pressure.’’
Quenneville said Saad has improved as the postseason has progressed.
“I think his play has really picked up in the latter round against LA and I like the way he played [in Game 1] as well.
“He’s a big player and he can make plays, and he’s dangerous off the rush and he has a heck of a shot. It was nice to see him get that one and hopefully he’s more comfortable in the scoring area going forward. But he does a lot of things besides the offensive production.’’
Chicago’s minute man
Count Saad among those who marvels at the number of minutes defenseman Duncan Keith logs on a nightly basis. Keith played a total of 88 minutes, 52 seconds over the previous two games, both multiple-overtime contests. His time on ice of 48:40 in Game 1 was tops on either team.
“To see how well he played and how many minutes he played, and to keep that up and playing again [Saturday night], he’s a special player,’’ said Saad. “During the game you might not notice it but you see after on the stat sheet and how many minutes he does play. And he’s always in the play, it’s not like he’s just standing around out there. He’s a special guy and we’re glad to have him on our team.’’
Toews shares credit
Toews beat out Bruins center Patrice Bergeron for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward.
The Blackhawks’ captain said it was an honor to be recognized.
“It’s exciting and always an honor just to be nominated next to guys like Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk,’’ said Toews. “It is something you definitely owe to your teammates because they help you get there in the first place. There is no chance I would be recognized for an award like that if I wasn’t in the middle of a great team. It was always part of my game that I was competitive defensively. I didn’t like to give up goals. I learned a lot when I played high school hockey in Minnesota and that is where they emphasized playing a complete game. I carried it from there to college hockey and [then] the pro level.’’