In several respects, the only two rookies to suit up for Game 1 of the championship series personified the direction that the game took for their teams. It could not be much more contrary than the favorite-underdog status of the contesting parties—for that matter, Saad’s 6’1”, 202-pound posture versus Krug’s 5’9”, 180-pound frame.
Or even, for that matter, the extra demand on Krug that comes with playing depth defense for a consensus underdog that has been cut for first blood in the final series.
The Blackhawks surmounted a 3-1 deficit en route to an eventual 4-3 victory in triple overtime. Along the way, Saad cracked out of a chrysalis in the goal column as old as the 2013 playoffs, while Krug’s night was hardly a full-blooded catastrophe but was a plunge from prior confidence nonetheless.
Krug, who was almost a season-long AHL fixture, fumbled the puck one time too many and, in contrast to the other two rounds he had played in this tournament, paid in the form of the first “minus” game in his NHL playoff career.
Saad entered the series opener with a 0-4-4 scoring log and minus-four rating through 17 playoff outings. He emerged with his first goal and a rating elevated to minus-two.
Krug entered the series opener with a 4-1-5 scoring log and plus-five rating through nine playoff appearances over Boston’s 16-game run to the Eastern Conference title. He finished the night with his rating docked by two points.
Saad gave the Blackhawks a timely breath when they trailed by two goals in the second period. Later on, in the closing frame, so did Krug.
Both freshmen effectively presaged their lasting imprint on the first game during the first period.
Krug, on the one hand, was fortunate not to be charged with a giveaway at the 1:48 mark when Chicago’s Andrew Shaw instead claimed credit for a takeaway. He was even luckier that the Hawks did not muster so much as a shot on goal on that play.
Later, as the Blackhawks pressed in the depths of the Bruins zone, Saad registered a hit at the 2:15 mark, took a pair of wrist shots at Tuukka Rask in the sixth minute and took a pair of hits at 14:23 and 18:11, respectively.
He took one more hit in the fourth minute of the second stanza, and it paid dividends for Saad and Chicago.
Skating the biscuit out of his own end and onto Boston property, Saad accepted a split-second stapling from Dennis Seidenberg along the far wall. Once freed, he attentively floated toward the slot while linemate Marian Hossa lassoed the loose puck in the corner.
Hossa’s lateral-backhand feed found Saad for a nimble snap over Rask’s left shoulder. That hatched an enduring goose egg for the Bruins backstop and for Saad himself while cutting a deficit to 2-1 merely two minutes and 17 seconds after Milan Lucic’s second unanswered goal at the other end.
Within the next two minutes, Krug had one of his better shifts on the night. It consisted of an offensive-zone body check on Shaw at the 4:26 mark and then a successive pair of blocked shots.
But in the eighth minute of the third, neither Krug nor the Bruins could get away with the young blueliner’s blunder sequel from the second minute of the first. With Boston now safeguarding a 3-1 upper hand, Krug once again turned the puck over to Shaw, and this time, he had a giveaway placed on his tab at the 7:57 mark.
Three seconds later, with Dave Bolland converting a feed from Shaw, Krug and the Bruins were also tagged for a goal-against.
Saad was in action when Chicago’s rally continued less than five minutes later with Johnny Oduya’s homeward-bound slapper drawing a 3-3 knot and giving him another plus point.
The polar pattern picked back up when the Blackhawks completed their comeback in sudden death. Krug was left helplessly hanging in front of Rask’s porch when Chicago point patroller Michal Rozsival’s shot ricocheted off of one or more twigs for the winner at 12:08 of the sixth period.
Now the Hawks have the initial lead in the Cup final and, as a bonus, an invigorated young forward who should have a tangible token of confidence going forward. Saad seized several stimulating chances before and after he struck in Game 1, and anything he buries in upcoming action will be a testament to his growth.
Meanwhile, the Bruins are first-time trailers in a series this postseason and their active rookie rearguard needs to shake off his first bout of NHL-level adversity. Krug needs a quick U-turn back in the direction he was initially traveling when he entered the lineup on the fly.