Saad is the star for Black­hawks

The young for­ward, who has be­come very im­por­tant to Chicago, gets the win­ning goal.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - HE­LENE EL­LIOTT

CHICAGO — The Chicago Black­hawks didn’t need much time to reload af­ter salary-cap considerations forced them to dump about a dozen play­ers from their 2010 Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­onship team. Those de­par­tures cre­ated room for young­sters in the pipe­line such as Bran­don Saad, who has steadily im­proved his game and the im­por­tance of his role since he played on their 2013 Cup team.

On Wed­nes­day, with the Black­hawks try­ing to pre­vent the Tampa Bay Light­ning from seiz­ing con­trol of the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal, Saad stepped up to match the high level of the core play­ers he ad­mires from those two Cup teams. Saad pur­sued his own re­bound and back­handed a bounc­ing puck through the legs of Light­ning goal­tender An­drei Vasilevskiy at 6 min­utes 22 sec­onds of the third pe­riod Wed­nes­day for his eighth goal of the play­offs, lift­ing the Black­hawks to a nail­bit­ing 2-1 victory be­fore a ju­bi­lant crowd at the United Cen­ter.

It wasn’t easy — Tampa Bay cen­ter Steven Stamkos had two prime scor­ing chances in the fran­tic fi­nal sec­onds — but the Black­hawks held on to win the

fourth straight one-goal game in this Fi­nal and turn this into a best-of-three se­ries. Game 5 will be played Satur­day in Tampa, with Game 6 sched­uled for Mon­day in Chicago.

“I think we’re happy about the con­fi­dence, com­ing out of this game know­ing we’re rais­ing our game as the se­ries goes along,” Black­hawks cap­tain Jonathan Toews said.

They came out of it vic­to­ri­ous be­cause Toews scored his first goal of the Fi­nal, at 6:40 of the sec­ond pe­riod, and be­cause Saad showed his prom­ise as a clutch player af­ter the Light­ning had pulled even at 11:47 of the sec­ond pe­riod on Alex Kil­lorn’s fin­ish of a slick setup from Valt­teri Filp­pula.

Saad in­sisted his goal was partly due to good for­tune.

“I just saw space go­ing to the net, tried to drive and cre­ate some chaos,” said Saad, who of­ten found him­self along­side Brad Richards and Pa­trick Kane on one of the new lines con­cocted by Coach Joel Quen­neville.

“The goalie made a good play with pok­ing the puck. It bounced around my feet and I fi­nally found it on my stick. I just tried to get some wood on it and get it to the net and found a way through his legs.”

Toews said he has liked Saad’s pro­gres­sion since the Pitts­burgh na­tive be­came a regular in the 2012-13 sea­son. “To me, the best char­ac­ter­is­tic to his game is not nec­es­sar­ily his flat-out skill, his skat­ing, all the tan­gi­ble parts of his game that you can see first­hand,” Toews said.

“I think when he came into the league he was al­ways push­ing him­self ev­ery night. He was as­sum­ing more re­spon­si­bil­ity, whether it was scor­ing goals or play­ing two-way hockey. I think he just keeps show­ing that. I think he just as­sumes that re­spon­si­bil­ity and he wants to be one of the best play­ers.”

He has achieved that in part be­cause he has a good role model in Toews and an­other in Kane, who earned his first point of the Fi­nal by set­ting up Saad’s goal.

“It’s mostly the cap­tain here,” Saad said of Toews, who sat be­side him for a postgame news con­fer­ence. “You watch and learn the way he plays and com­petes. His pas­sion out there is bar none.”

The Black­hawks had only two shots in the first pe­riod and didn’t man­age to con­sis­tently sus­tain much pres­sure on Vasilevskiy, the sur­prise starter.

Ben Bishop, who sus­tained an undis­closed in­jury in Game 2 and gut­ted his way through Game 3, didn’t dress as the backup. That role was filled by Lat­vian Kris­ters Gudlevskis.

Light­ning Coach Jon Cooper said Bishop “is go­ing to play again in this se­ries, there’s no ques­tion. I just don’t know which game.”

He also said he had no prob­lem with Vasilevskiy’s per­for­mance.

“If you tell me we’re go­ing to come in and he’s go­ing to give up two goals, that’s a hell of a job in my book,” Cooper said. “We’ve had a lot of suc­cess when we’ve only given up two. We win more of those games than we don’t.”

They didn’t win Wed­nes­day in part be­cause Saad has emerged from that pipe­line to take on an ev­er­grow­ing role with the Black­hawk and keep them in con­tention for a third ti­tle in six sea­sons.

Ta­sos Katopodis Getty Images

TAMPA BAY’S On­drej Palat (18) en­gages with Chicago’s An­toine Ver­mette for the puck in the first pe­riod as Pa­trick Kane looks to join the play.

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