Hawks coach Joel Quenneville pleased with Brandon Saad’s play despite lack of goals

Written By BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter Posted: 05/03/2014, 04:58pm
Array CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02: Mikael Granlund #64 of the Minnesota Wild falls into the net behind Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game One of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brandon Saad hadn’t scored in 18 games. If the Blackhawks were playing golf Friday instead of starting their second-round series with the Minnesota Wild at the United Center, this fact would have been far more troubling to the second-year winger.

“Since we’re winning, it’s easy not to think about,” Saad said before the game. “But when chances happen in a game, you want to score. And when the puck doesn’t seem to find a way in, it’s something that’s frustrating at the time. We’re having success, so we just have to keep at it and keep working hard.”

Saad hasn’t found the back of the net, but he had four assists in the first three games of the St. Louis Blues series and was a plus-4. Coach Joel Quenneville — who benched Saad for a game late in the regular season to light a fire under him — was generally pleased with his performance against the Blues.

“He had a good first round,” Quenneville said. “Saad gives you intangibles of playing both sides. He plays with a lot of different linemates, as well, in the course of a game. He had a real good jump — particularly as the series progressed. He could be a real big factor if he continues to progress.”

That said, Saad no longer finds himself on the top line with Jonathan Toews or the second line with Patrick Kane. In fact, with Ben Smith bumped up to the second line and the fourth line relegated to a couple of minutes a game lately, the third line of Saad, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw might find itself in the shutdown role, tasked with slowing down the Wild’s top offensive line.

That’s fine with Saad, too.

“We still have a scoring touch,” he said. “We’re focused a bit more on playing well defensively and keeping pucks out of our net, but at the same time, we’re creating chances, and we got some goals there.”

Saad saw Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa get off the schneid late in the Blues series. He’s confident it’ll be his turn soon. “It came for them,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s only a matter of time before it comes for me.”

On the upswing

The Wild’s seven-game series win over the Colorado Avalanche was their first since 2003. That experience could make this series more competitive than last year’s first-round matchup.

“We’re not playing a team that’s in the playoffs for the first time in a little while like we did last year,” Toews said. “We have to be ready.”

Added Bryan Bickell: “Confidence goes a long way in this sport. To get that first series — just to get that taste, they want more.”

Surprise scratch

Kris Versteeg was a late scratch, replaced by Joakim Nordstrom for the second consecutive game. After being a healthy scratch in Game  6 against St. Louis, Versteeg had been skating on the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Michal Handzus in practice Wednesday and Thursday, then at Friday’s morning skate and yet again for warmups. But Nordstrom got the call.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus

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