CHICAGO -- Brandon Saad said he had no trouble sleeping the night before the Blackhawks faced the Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
At 21, Saad is no stranger to big hockey games and the winger is getting the education of a lifetime while playing for a Hawks team that played deep into the Western finals for the second consecutive season in his first two seasons in the NHL. Having appeared in 44 postseason games thus far is invaluable experience for Saad as he continues to develop his game.
"Even last year, I might not have played my best hockey, but being a part of it and being a part of the team and getting the job done and winning definitely helps," said Saad, who opened the scoring in the first period Sunday night.
Coach Joel Quenneville said playing in pressure situations is a key to Saad's future.
"I think it helps players, whether you get playoff experience, big-game settings, big moments, quality ice time (or) important shifts," Quenneville said. "You get more comfortable in that situation.
"We like (Saad's) progress," Quenneville added. "He's a young kid (and) his upside is definitely big."
New wrinkle: Ben Smith called the Hawks' third line "second-tier" before correcting himself.
"Obviously, Sharpie's not a second-tier offensive guy," he said.
But Smith's point was that the newly formed line with him, Patrick Sharp and Marcus Kruger could supply a defensive edge with some offense.
"The biggest thing for us is being strong defensively," Smith said. "Adding Sharpie on there, we can add an element of offense that this team needs. For Kruger and me to contribute a bit, that would be nice. It's exciting for us to get a bit more ice (time), a bit more opportunity and try to make the most of it."
Sharp had scored just one goal in the series against the Kings entering Game 7, although he led the team in scoring through the regular season. Smith had scored a goal in each of the last two games, while Kruger has been scoreless in the playoffs.
"Over the years, I've played a little bit with (Kruger)," Sharp said. "I've played with him the last couple of games. We know how to support each other and what makes us successful."
Quenneville's rationale for grouping the trio: "They give us some speed, some ability to check. I think they give us some balance as well."
Kris Versteeg, who was a healthy scratch for Game 6 and replaced by Sheldon Brookbank, returned to the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Michal Handzus.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Despite facing each other in the Western Conference finals in back-to-back seasons, including a heated battle through Game 7 this year, there doesn't seem to be much bad blood between the Kings and Blackhawks.
"Great hockey for sure," Quenneville said. "The guys are as competitive as heck. We've seen some big hits in the last few games. (But) respect is a key. I think there are a lot of experienced guys who know what it takes to win. Playing the right way is something that we stress."
Bryan Bickell said there's a mutual respect between the teams.
"I don't think there's a lot of hatred or anything like we do with some teams," he said.
There's a better way to settle things, Quenneville said.
"Bad blood, getting even," he said, "is on the scoreboard at the end of the night."
(c)2014 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services