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updated: 4/29/2013 6:58 PM

Hawks' young guns poised for playoffs

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  • Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy and left wing Brandon Saad celebrate with right wing Marian Hossa after his 2nd period goal during their game Sunday night at the United Center in Chicago.

       Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy and left wing Brandon Saad celebrate with right wing Marian Hossa after his 2nd period goal during their game Sunday night at the United Center in Chicago.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Andrew Shaw admits he'll be a bit nervous during every game of the postseason. "You don't want the season to end early," Shaw said.

       Andrew Shaw admits he'll be a bit nervous during every game of the postseason. "You don't want the season to end early," Shaw said.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Marcus Kruger knows playoff hockey is much faster than what the players see in the regular season. "You've got to be ready right away," he said.

      Marcus Kruger knows playoff hockey is much faster than what the players see in the regular season. "You've got to be ready right away," he said.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

For the first three games of last year's Western Conference quarterfinals against Phoenix, rookie Brandon Saad was a spectator.

Then came the news he wasn't sure he was expecting: He'd be in the lineup for Game 4 at the United Center.

"I played the year down in juniors, and getting called up I didn't know if I was just going to be around the team to get a sense of the atmosphere or to be able to play," Saad, 20, recalled. "I think when they first told me I was playing, stepping on the ice, for sure I was a little nervous.

"Warm-ups, seeing the building erupting ... being young and not playing much, it was definitely nerve-wracking."

He sure didn't play like he was nervous, posting 4 hits and a plus-1 rating in just over 13 minutes in his postseason debut.

Fast forward a year and now Saad's feeling a lot more relaxed heading into the Blackhawks' showdown against the Minnesota Wild, which begins Tuesday night at the United Center.

"Last year was definitely more nerve-wracking," he said. "This year, having the full year up here it helped me out a lot just being comfortable and having confidence."

He's not alone.

A group of Blackhawks young guns, including 21-year-old Andrew Shaw, Nick Leddy (22) and Marcus Kruger (22), are all feeling a lot more at ease heading into the series opener.

Of that group, Leddy and Kruger may actually qualify as playoff veterans, Leddy having played 13 postseason games over the last two seasons while Kruger has seen action in 11 games.

"I know now pretty much what to expect in the playoffs; it's going to be faster -- especially the first game. You've got to be ready right away," Kruger said. "I'm more comfortable. I think everyone is."

Leddy, a native of Eden Prairie, Minn., knows just what to expect when the puck drops against the Wild.

"Right off the bat you know that every playoff series is going to be hard," said Leddy, who has 3 points in 13 playoff games. "You really have to stick to your game and keep everything simple because the pace, right off the bat, goes through the roof."

Sounds like a player who won't have to worry about frayed nerves in the series.

"Yeah, I think so," he said with a smile, "just because I've experienced it over the last two years. But obviously there will be a little nerves."

Shaw, who spent equal time on and off the ice against Phoenix, courtesy of a three-game suspension for a hit on Coyotes' goalie Mike Smith, knows he'll be nervous. And he'll be the same way in the next game and the next and ...

"I've always been a little nervous," he said. "You don't want to end the season early, you want to push and play hockey as much as you can."

So how should a young player go about fighting off nerves when the bright lights are even brighter and every game is so critical?

"You try not to (look at it differently), you want to look at it like every other game, but it definitely is different and it means a lot more," Saad said. "Playoffs are an exciting time of year and it's going to be fun.

"You don't want to change anything, just stay in your routine and try to play your best."

Spoken like a true playoff, ahem, veteran.

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