The Chicago Blackhawks had no shortage of struggling players in their first four games against the Los Angeles Kings, and perhaps the most notable of those was Patrick Kane.
That ended on Wednesday night.
Kane was united with Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw on Chicago’s second line as head coach Joel Quenneville went for a different look in Game 5. The results were fantastic.
“They were excellent, outstanding,” Quenneville said in a postgame press conference carried live by CBC.ca when asked about the trio. “They brought speed off the rush, play recognition, finish, support. They all had huge games. That might have been a discovery.”
At least one member of the line got a point on all five goals in Chicago’s 5-4 double overtime win over L.A. Kane, who had been held to just one assist over the first three games of the series, ran up four of them in one night. Shaw added two more after previously going pointless, while Saad put up one goal, two assists and a team-leading seven shots.
Saad in particular earned praise for his performance after the game, from teammates and outside observers alike:
Kane: "I thought [Brandon Saad] was the best player on the ice tonight." #Blackhawks— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) May 29, 2014
Brandon Saad was BRILLIANT tonight.— Craig Button (@CraigJButton) May 29, 2014
Remember when Brandon Saad wasn't on the Olympic team and people were more upset about Bobby Ryan being snubbed?— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) May 29, 2014
It was a night when the experts and the shot metrics would be in total agreement. Saad led all players with a plus-eight Fenwick rating (shots and missed shots for minus the same against), while he and Kane tied for the lead with a plus-11 Corsi rating (all shot attempts for minus all against).
Kane and Saad also made crucial plays to open the way for Michal Handzus’ overtime winner:
Kane collected the puck in the neutral zone and made the pass to set up Saad’s entry into the offensive zone. Saad sucked both defenceman Willie Mitchell and forward Trevor Lewis over to his end of the ice while Kane forced Slava Voynov to track him in front of the net. That work (combined with Lewis’ inexplicable decision to double-team Saad) opened the way for Handzus to drive straight to the net.
Handzus had to make a beautiful play to finish off the sequence, but he never would have had the opportunity if not for the work of Saad and Kane, who were magic together.
The emergence of an impactful second line is a most welcome development for the Blackhawks, who have leaned heavily on Jonathan Toews for offensive production and desperately needed to find a breakthrough somewhere else in the lineup
If the trio can keep up this kind of production (or even some semblance of this kind of production) it will go a long way toward negating the massive advantage on lines two through four that the Kings have enjoyed to date in this series.
It’s also going to make the job of the Los Angeles defence much tougher. Drew Doughty (who was superb in Game 5) can’t handle all of the minutes against both the Toews and Kane lines, and Chicago’s new second line showed on Wednesday that it was capable of exposing the second pair of Voynov and Mitchell.
With a 3-1 lead entering Game 5, the Kings had a chance to end the Western Conference Final on Wednesday. Instead, they head back to Los Angeles with a new problem to solve for what should be a very interesting Game 6.