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Bollig, Saad, Shaw learned a lot during playoffs last year

Chicago Blackhawks v Phoenix Coyotes - Game Two

Chicago Blackhawks v Phoenix Coyotes - Game Two

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Updated: April 23, 2013 12:27AM

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — When his wrist shot from the left circle dented the net behind Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith on April 14 last year, Brandon Bollig knew it was a big deal. It was his first goal in the NHL — his first point, even.

But it wasn’t until after the game, which the Blackhawks pulled out in overtime, that he realized just how big of a deal it was.

“It came in the playoffs in a big game — we were down 1-0 in the series, and it tied the game up in Game 2 and we ended up winning in overtime — so it was an unbelievable feeling,” Bollig said before the game Monday against the Vancouver Canucks. “But I didn’t really realize how cool it was until after the game. It sank in when I got to my phone and I had over 100 messages to respond to from family and friends.”

That doesn’t happen when you score a goal in mid-January.

“The playoffs are a whole different ballgame,” Bollig said.

While the first-round loss to the Coyotes last season was a dreadful end to a promising season, it did give Bollig, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw postseason experience, which could prove invaluable when the playoffs begin next week. Thanks to that series, every player on the Hawks’ roster knows what the playoffs are like.

“I think being able to experience it, being a part of it, it’s definitely something that’ll make me comfortable this year,” said Saad, who played in two playoff games after being called up when his junior season ended. “It wasn’t a lot of games, but just to get a taste of it helps.”

Saad had played in just two NHL games — the first two of the season — before Marian Hossa’s concussion suddenly thrust him into the lineup for Games 4 and 5. He had four hits in his first game and an assist in his second.

“I was a little nervous, but getting those two games at the start of the year helped out with the playoffs,” Saad said. “It’s the same thing this year. Being able to play a couple playoff games last year is going to help with the playoffs this year.”

While Bollig, who played four games in the playoffs last season, likely will shuttle in and out of the lineup based on coach Joel Quenneville’s need for physical play, Saad and Shaw are key every-day players. Saad is entrenched on the top line, and Shaw is centering the critical third line. Shaw skated on the right wing of that checking line with Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland last year before his hit on Smith behind the net earned him a three-game suspension. Shaw returned for the decisive Game 6.

His playoff experience — the good and the bad — serves as his motivation as he prepares for his second go-around.

“I felt like I let the team down, and I did kind of lose out on a lot [by getting suspended],” Shaw said. “It’s horrible. It sucked for me. And I’m going to try to make up for it this year.”

While Bollig remembers his first goal, and Saad remembers those butterflies, and Shaw remembers the intensity, one thing above all else sticks in the minds of those players who made their postseason debuts last year — the devastation when it ended early. That feeling could prove as valuable as anything else.

“I just remember going home early,” Shaw said. “That hurt. We don’t want to do that again.”

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