Saad comes up huge for Blackhawks in Game 1
If you're going to win a conference title, you're going to need all hands on deck.
If you're going to win a Stanley Cup, you're going to need every player dressing to contribute in a significant way.
And if you intend to repeat as champions, at some point you're going to need a role player showing up and playing the game of his life.
Brandon Saad did that Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals as the Blackhawks defeated the Kings 3-1 at the UC.
"He had a whale of a game," said Duncan Keith, who scored the game-winner on an incredible pass from Saad. "He also made a great play in our end."
That was probably the play of the game and it occurred on Saad's next shift after the Hawks took a 2-1 in the second period.
The Kings' Trevor Lewis got loose down the far side and busted in behind the Hawks' cage and had an empty net for a wrap-around when Saad came out of nowhere to save a goal and stop Lewis, who slammed his stick on the ice as he headed back to the Los Angeles bench.
"Especially me being a role player, that's something you have to do is play both ends of the ice," Saad said after the media mob had departed. "Skill guys like that aren't going to quit on a play and they're always going to find a way to get to the net, so I just tried to track back all the way to the net.
"You want to see where your defense is at and normally I wouldn't be that low, but if a guy gets beat you want to cover for him and I just tried to make a good defensive play."
Saad got several pats on the back for that save when he got off the ice, a feeling as good as the goal he scored to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead in the first period.
"At the time, you're just trying to play both ends of the ice, and that's the type of player I try to be," Saad said. "Looking back, it was a big play, but there's a lot of big plays during a game."
When the Hawks watch video Monday, coach Joel Quenneville is going to point out what it means in a critical game and in a tough series to play a 200-foot game.
"He loves a defensive play like that," Saad said. "Hey, whatever I can do to help and keep this going."
Saad got the Hawks going at 14:46 of the first when he stood in front of the Los Angeles net and tipped in a Nick Leddy shot with his leg after some great work along the boards by Marian Hossa, the goal coming with two seconds left in a power play.
"You got to be there first. There's a willingness to get there. Probably a price to pay," Quenneville said. "Sometimes they go off you. It all makes your power play work by being there first of all, then you get a shooting mentality.
"If you're looking for a perfect goal on a power play, it's not going to happen."
With the score tied 1-1 midway through the second, Saad took a pass from Marcus Kruger just inside the Los Angeles blueline. After Saad corralled the puck along the half-boards, he pulled up and found the trailer as Keith stepped onto the ice and into the Kings' zone.
Saad made a perfect, 90-foot pass to the Hawks' defenseman, who fired it through a picket fence of three Kings players. It skipped off a stick and high into the net past Jonathan Quick for the go-ahead goal at 11:54.
"There was a lot of guys committing me to me and I saw (Keith) change off the bench and he had a lot of space," Saad said. "I just tried to get the puck to him, it got deflected off one of their guys and took a funny bounce, but we'll take it."
It was a fabulous look by a second-year player who was a healthy scratch before the playoffs and found the right time to play a monster game.
"We like to get our defense involved," Saad said. "Me and Kruger, it was a 2-on-2 rush in the middle of a line change. I knew we wouldn't have too many guys up front, so I took a peak back and luckily Duncs had space."
It was an incredible day for the 21-year-old Saad, who also had 3 steals and a blocked shot, playing maybe the best 200-foot game of his very young career.
"When you play hard and you play fast, you're gonna get some bounces," Saad said. "Fortunately, they did help us tonight and we did get the bounces, but I think when you play like that we're gonna get them all the time."
It went the Hawks' way Sunday, but it wasn't an accident. They got a huge game from a kid that was ready to play in a huge game, ready to be the defending champs' best player from start to finish.
They're all big now and if you're going to win the Cup again, you'll need games like that.
On Sunday, from Brandon Saad they got the game of his life.
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