Hauling ice: Brandon Saad energizing Blackhawks with scoring, all-out play

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Brandon Saad has come alive since the Blackhawks’ coaching change. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Blackhawks wing Brandon Saad chased down a pass off the boards from teammate Alexandre Fortin, outbattled Wild defenseman Matt Dumba with his stick to rein in the puck and smoked Dumba in a race to the net.

With Dumba right behind him — and just as goalie Alex Stalock bit on his forehand — Saad niftily switched the puck to his backhand and jammed it into the net to give the Hawks a two-goal lead Sunday.

Of all the individual plays the Hawks made in their 3-1 victory at the United Center, this — Saad’s fourth goal in his last seven games — was the one that jumped off the ice and into the season highlight reel.

And of all the individual players Jeremy Colliton has worked with up close in the two weeks since replacing Joel Quenneville as coach, Saad has made perhaps the largest impression.

After missing two games with an arm injury, Saad was outstanding in three games at home that netted five points and busted the Hawks out of a slump. Colliton, who isn’t done tinkering with the team’s line combinations, moved Saad to the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.


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It’s not wrong to wonder whether the Hawks have enough quality on their roster to fill four lines. But it’s exciting to think about the damage a Saad-Toews-Kane line could do.

‘‘I thought he was playing pretty good before I got here,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘Unfortunately he got injured there, but he stepped right in and arguably [was] our best player every game he’s played since he came back. He really adds an extra battle level, wins races on that line, and I think those two other guys really benefit from having the puck a little more.’’

The tone in regard to Saad has changed from Quenneville to Colliton, becoming decidedly more positive. Quenneville wanted more of everything — from grit to puck possession to scoring production — from Saad, who turned 26 last month. Colliton sees those areas, particularly Saad’s effort level, as clear strengths.

‘‘He just gets pucks back, goes to the net, goes to the hard areas, wins battles on the wall,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘That’s the kind of guy you can win with.’’

The more Saad produces, the less he’ll hear about Artemi Panarin, the Blue Jackets star who was the other main piece in a 2017 offseason trade between the teams. Saad insisted the talk about the trade, which still reverberates, doesn’t get under his skin.

‘‘We’re different players,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but you’ve got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table.’’

There’s a pretty good list of what Saad is bringing these days. On his current line, it could expand, too. A switch has been flipped, energizing the entire team.

‘‘When he goes out there and he demands the puck, it’s fun to watch him because it’s so hard to take it off him,’’ Toews said. ‘‘He’s powerful, he’s protecting it so well and he just opens up so much space for his linemates. He takes it to the net — either it’s going in [or] there’s pucks laying around the crease for second efforts — and then you get defenders moving all over the place.

‘‘It’s nice to see him get rewarded because he’s been playing great and doing a lot of things well.’’

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