By Adam Hoge-
CHICAGO (CBS) — As the Blackhawks arrived at O’Hare Airport on Thursday to board their charter flight back to Los Angeles for Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, it was obvious they were still in the process of appreciating Wednesday night’s 5-4 double-overtime win against the Kings and especially the play of 21-year-old winger Brandon Saad.
“He was amazing last night,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s had a some games like that over the course of the season where he just takes it to a different level.”
Trailing 3-1 in the series entering last night, the Blackhawks were in need of a spark, and that’s what they got from Saad, who scored a scored and recorded two assists.
“I feel like that I was one of the best games probably I’ve ever played and on one of the biggest stages,” Saad said. “It was nice to help the team win an elimination game, and I’m looking to keep it going forward.”
The Blackhawks will need that level of play from Saad in the next two games if they are going to successfully pull off the comeback against the Kings. The line of Saad, Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane contributed nine points in the Game 5 win, but the Blackhawks still needed a goal from Michal Handzus in double overtime just to extend the series another day.
Quenneville wasn’t shy about the high expectations the organization has for Saad, and he knows right now would be a great time for it to come together for the second-year forward.
“Consistency of putting it all together is what we’re looking for,” Quenneville said. “He has that ability to play a high level game — almost like an impact player. Throughout the league, not too many guys can make an impact on a game like he did last night. So he has the ability, which is great for us, and consistency is what we look for. But he had one of those games you’ll always remember.”
Meanwhile, Saad admitted that a game like last night could play a big role in his development.
“I felt pretty good all playoffs, but to be able to produce and help out the team in that way, that always helps with confidence and bringing your game to the next level,” he said.
Captain Jonathan Toews had high praise for the performance, too.
“He’s never satisfied,” Toews said. “He wants to be a difference maker, and I don’t know if I can think of a game that I’ve seen him play better than last night. He was unbelievable. That’s basically what we need to find a way to win against this team, is guys like that stepping up and we got it from Saader last night.”
Anytime a line has a game like the Saad-Shaw-Kane line did Wednesday night, the other team is going to adjust. With the series moving back to the Staples Center, Kings coach Darryl Sutter will have the benefit of last change, allowing him to change the matchup against that line if he needs to.
“Tough to say,” Quenneville said when asked if he thought Sutter would make changes. “They have four pretty good lines. They have agile and mobile (defensemen) that are balanced as well. They got a good team, so there are no breaks no matter who is coming over the boards for them. The matchup will be what it’ll be.”
Of course, if the Kings do focus on the Saad-Shaw-Kane line, that should open up opportunities for Chicago’s other lines.
“We have a deep team,” Saad said. “Even though our line ended up scoring last night, there’s a lot of lines that can be a threat. Who knows how the matchups will go, but we gotta be a threat.”
It would be surprising to see Kris Versteeg in the lineup for Game 6 after the winger was benched in the second period Wednesday night and didn’t see another shift the rest of the game. Quenneville never says much about possible lineup changes, but when asked about it Thursday, he responded, “We could. Don’t expect many.”
Quenneville said every player was making the trip to Los Angeles, and he confirmed that Shaw and Marcus Kruger were good to go after both were victims of big hits in Wednesday night’s win.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears and Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.