Saad looking to improve in playoffs

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Chicago Blackhawks rookie forward Brandon Saad figured out how to excel in the regular season, and that was acknowledged Monday by him being named a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy.

What Saad is now searching for is how to produce in the same way in the playoffs. He has yet to have a goal or assist after three games against the Minnesota Wild in a Western Conference quarterfinals series.

Saad said Monday he and his linemates, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, have to improve their play against the Wild. Hossa is the only one of the trio that has recorded any points in the series.

“I don’t know about just production; I think it's a little frustrating that we’re not playing our best,” said Saad, who had 27 points in 46 regular-season games. “I think when we do play our best the points will come, so that’s going to show for it. But as a team, we have to come better prepared.

“I just think we got to get to the net more and start shooting pucks. We have stints in the games that we’re having good zone time and playing well, but most of it is on the perimeter. So we got to get in the dirty areas, get to the net and shoot more pucks.”

Saad got his first taste of the playoffs last season, but he played a much smaller role in the two playoff games he appeared in for the Blackhawks. He said what he’s experienced in this season’s playoffs is different, but not surprising.

“It’s pretty much what I expected,” Saad said. “I think it ramps up. Everyone talks about it. It’s obviously different going through it.”

Hossa thought Saad had handled the playoffs well so far, especially considering he’s still only 20 years old.

“I think he’s just fine,” Hossa said. “For his age, I think he’s doing really well.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wouldn’t comment specifically on Saad’s playoff play, but he was hopeful his top line was on the cusp of breaking through.

“I think you look at scorers,” Quenneville said. “They get more comfortable; they get more confidence when they produce. The puck is a little friendlier for them. They have that little extra added patience in tight areas. The finish is usually what makes them special players. I think in the playoffs you always find stretches where your top guys are getting checked and scoring is at a premium and it’s hard to come by. Right now, I think that’s the line we’re hoping to just get one and maybe get a little comfortable as they go along here.”

Quenneville was willing to talk about how Saad became a key fixture in his lineup this season.

“He’s had a really nice year for us,” Quenneville said. “I think he’s come into the NHL maybe under the radar when he started the season, but the appreciation for what he contributed to our team game from start to finish was strong. I think that line and his consistency and absorbing more responsibility as the season went on being on special teams and getting critical minutes and the confidence that we used him was based on well he played and how consistently he played.

“I think his strength and his size and his anticipation on both sides of the puck are going to make him a nice player going forward. But a real nice start to his career.”