Blackhawks

'Total package' Brandon Saad lifts Blackhawks to Game 4 victory

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'Total package' Brandon Saad lifts Blackhawks to Game 4 victory

He's been known as "man child" since his emergence as a rookie with the Blackhawks in 2013.

But after another clutch postseason performance it may be time to drop the "child" out of Brandon Saad's nickname.

The 22-year-old Saad notched the biggest goal of his young career on Wednesday night, tallying the game-winner in Game 4 as the Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 to even up the Stanley Cup Final at 2-2 before the series shifts back to Florida for Game 5 on Saturday evening. 

With the game knotted up 1-1 in the third period, Saad took a pass from Patrick Kane after Brad Richards cleared the path for him to go hard to the net with a sneaky stick lift of Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman, creating chaos in front of Lightning rookie goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. After an initial save, the puck squirted back out to Saad, who found the back of the net with a quick backhand through the five-hole on Vasilevskiy, giving Chicago a 2-1 lead with just under 14 minutes remaining in the final frame.

The goal was Saad's eighth of the postseason, good for third on the team behind Jonathan Toews (10) and Kane (10). 

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks earn 2-1 Game 4 win, even series with Lightning]

"He’s a fun player to watch," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "Seems like, I don’t know, what is he 21-years-old? He looks like a grown man out there. He takes the puck, tells everybody what he’s going to do with it and bulls people over and gets to that net either way. It’s nice to see him putting the puck in the net."

Saad's ability to bully his away into the slot wasn't the only thing that stood out to his teammates on his clutch goal.

Saad used his lightning-quick stride to grab a loose puck off the faceoff and drive the puck into Tampa Bay's Zone, creating the scoring opportunity for Chicago.

"It looks like he's just out for a Sunday stroll sometimes," Richards said. "He's three strides and he's beating people down the ice."

Richards, who didn't know much about Saad when he joined the Blackhawks as a free agent last summer, spoke glowingly of his teammate's performance.

"He just keeps getting better. When I first saw him this year, I didn’t know he was that good," Richards said. "But he’s way better now even than he was in September. Just growing up and getting confident. So powerful. I’ve never seen such a young kid so even-keel. I don’t think anything bothers him."

While Saad's goal will show up on the box score, it was a play that he made late in the game that won't get much notoriety but may have saved the night for Chicago.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

With the Lightning sending an extra-attacker to try to get the equalizer in the final two minutes of the third period, Saad was in position to make a diving block of a slapshot from the point, letting more time tick off the clock to help the Blackhawks stave off a late push from the Lightning.

"He's one of those guys that sacrifices himself to do the right things and to be consistent at it," Blackhawks forward Andrew Desjardins said. "It's pretty special when you put that all together in a player. He's the total package. I mean it sounds kind of cheesy, but he does. Big goal but just a huge block too.That block with 20, 30 seconds left or whatever it was there. Huge."

Saad's remarkable postseason play has given head coach Joel Quenneville the ability to use him in key situations.

"He’s been great," Quenneville said. "I love his game tonight. A great power move to the net. He gives us speed, I can use him in all situations.

"He’s fast, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s dangerous. Very good performance."

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.