Saad finally finding his playoff groove

Brandon Saad has one goal and four assists in his first playoff run. Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks rookie forward Brandon Saad had it pretty easy in the regular season.

Part of that was Saad's own doing by proving he belonged in the NHL. But from the time Saad was thrown on the top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa in the season's second game up until the playoffs, Saad has remained in Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's graces.

But the playoffs have been a rockier road and a reality check for Saad.

When Saad's play began to decline in the first round against the Minnesota Wild, Quenneville treated Saad like any of his players. Winning was all that mattered, and Quenneville did what he felt was necessary to accomplish that. He first decreased Saad's minutes and then he demoted him to the third line.

"I thought he was OK at the start of the playoffs," Quenneville said after Friday's practice at the United Center. "I thought he had an outstanding regular season. I thought he started at a pretty good pace. Almost kind of represented the way he started the regular season. He was fine in the regular season. Didn't have any production to show for his play. Started the playoffs kind of comparable."

Saad was given time to produce in the first three games against the Wild, averaging just over 20 minutes a game, but he recorded zero points. After finishing with a minus-2 rating in Game 3 against the Wild, Saad's minutes were cut to 14:50 in Game 3. His ice time fell to a season-low 10:47 in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings.

Saad said he never let the diminished role bother him and just kept working.

"I don't think it really matters," Saad said. "Regardless of what line you're on, you're still coming to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. I think our third line had great chances out there, and we played pretty well. Regardless of the line you're on, you're coming to work and doing your job.

"In the playoffs, the intensity picks up. I don't know if you want to try to simplify things and things like that and not try to do much. It's a learning experience and the guys have helped me through it."

Saad began succeeding in that job again against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals. He had two assists in the Blackhawks' Game 2 victory. Quenneville rewarded Saad by playing him 19:03 in the Blackhawks' two-overtime win in Game 5.

Quenneville's trust carried over to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. After starting out on the third line on Wednesday, Saad was moved back to the top line during the game. He scored his first career playoff goal, had a plus-2 rating and played 31:02 in the three-overtime 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins. Saad skated again with Toews and Hossa on the top line during Friday's practice.

"His play has picked up in the latter rounds against L.A., and I like the way he played the last game as well," Quenneville said. "He's a big player. He can make plays. He's dangerous off the rush. Has a heck of a shot. Nice to see him get that one. Hopefully, he's more comfortable in the scoring area going forward. He does a lot of things besides the offensive production like we talked about earlier on Johnny [Toews.]"

Toews believes the playoffs have been a learning process for Saad like all younger players.

"I think there's always an adjustment period whether you're coming into the league or it's your first time in the playoffs," Toews said. "Not too many rookies expect to be going to the Stanley Cup final for the first time they're in the playoffs. He's done a great job all along. It's nice to see him get that first (goal).

"He's been around the net so much, he's had so many chances, that people don't really tend to notice until he finally scores. I'm sure it's a huge relief for him. And as a line, we played great and did some good things last game. To have Saad back on the score sheet like that, it gives us so much more confidence that he can go out there and make plays."

Saad is pleased to have that first goal behind him and to be back with Toews and Hossa.

"You always want to produce out there," Saad said. "It didn't happen before, so I'm glad it happened the last game.

"It means a lot (to be on the top line). For them to show the confidence in me helps you get more confidence in yourself. To get back on the lines with Johnny and Hoss meant a lot."