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Sharp certain goals on way for Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Patrick Sharp wasn't going to be denied.

In a Western Conference First Round series against the St. Louis Blues full of scoring chances thwarted and shots missed, the Chicago Blackhawks' leading scorer from the regular season scored a breakaway goal in the third period of Game 6 at United Center.

After blocking Kevin Shattenkirk's shot, Sharp bolted for the neutral zone behind the Blues defenseman. He took a short pass from teammate Patrick Kane, zeroed his focus on St. Louis goalie Ryan Miller and hit the afterburners.

"I knew [Kane] was going to hit me with a pass," Sharp said after the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Playoff series was secured in six games. "I knew I was in. I just wanted to focus in getting the shot on net. It's tough to get to the net in a series like that, so I had an opportunity that I wanted to get there whatever way I [could]."

That included fighting through a high stick from Shattenkirk that raked Sharp's head back like a hooked fish and appeared to nix his shot attempt. Instead, the puck slid slowly toward the goal and wound up in the net after Miller tried for a poke check and wound up falling backward.

Sharp's lone point of the series happened 77 seconds after a go-ahead power-play goal by Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and deflated the resilient Blues. Chicago scored two more goals, winning 5-1 to end the series, and afterward St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock lamented the goal by Sharp.

"The goal was a backbreaker," Hitchcock said. "It was a backbreaker. The bench was still fine. Our team had great spirit at the start, great spirit through the first and second period. To play as well as we've ever played in this building was the way we played the first two periods, and then the third goal, the air went right out of the bench."

It probably went straight to Sharp's skates.

Happy to have scored, he found it a bit amusing. After a frustrating series statistically, scoring once in 23 shots, it was almost comical how such an important goal found its way into the net.

"All the shots I had in the series that didn't go in," Sharp said, smirking. "It's funny the first one I score rolls off my stick and goes in."

The question now, as Chicago prepares to face the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN), is whether that goal might be the spark that sets Sharp on one of his goal-scoring binges.

His career numbers and regular-season statistics suggest that might happen.

Sharp played 82 games for the Blackhawks and led them in scoring with 34 goals and 44 assists (78 points; 12 in the NHL). He was plus-13 and finished second in the NHL in shots on goal (313), behind Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 51 goals on 386 shots.

Sharp scored on 10.9 percent of his shots in the regular season, which when compared to his 4.3 on 23 shots in the first round suggests he's likely to break out, sooner or later.

Asked after practice Thursday at United Center how he's dealing with the frustrations of the first round, Sharp bristled a bit.

"I think it's tougher for everybody to score in the playoffs, but you're asking me about my game," he said. "I feel like I've scored a lot in the playoffs in the past and I know I'll score in the future."

The numbers back him up.

Sharp has 233 goals with 250 assists (483 points) in 667 games since making his NHL debut with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2002-03, and has 34 goals with 23 assists (57 points) in 93 playoff games. He led the Blackhawks in goals during their Stanley Cup victories in 2010 (11 goals) and 2013 (10 goals).

He's got a confidence that comes only with that kind of experience, which is why he's not all that concerned about his game, particularly after one round. The same can be said for right wing Marian Hossa, who scored one goal and had one assist against St. Louis despite leading Chicago with 29 shots.

"I think I've learned over the course of my playoff experience that it's always about the next game," Sharp said. "It doesn't matter what you did in the first round, the first game, the second game ... it's always about that next game."

He used Kane as an example. The right wing scored on a breakaway in Game 1 against St. Louis. He didn't score again until Game 4, when he scored twice; the second one, in overtime, tied the series 2-2.

"[Kane] had two goals and an assist that game and he was ready to go the next night," Sharp said. "He wasn't even thinking about it because it doesn't matter, it's over with. I think that's the approach you take [in the playoffs] ... everybody, not just Hossa and I."

That's exactly what Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wants to hear. He's been around this team long enough and watched his top players respond to adversity many times. The goals, he knows, will come eventually for Sharp and Hossa.

"We talked about a lot of that in the last series knowing, 'Hey, their production sometimes is going to be tight, and it's going to be limited in certain games, and certain guys get more attention than others,'" Quenneville said. "Their play gets reflected on their production. I think contributing to the team game makes you [know] that you're doing the right things and that's what make you a solid team. In the playoffs, regular season, I don't care who scores."

Following Game 6 against the Blues, Sharp admitted it was tough to see a goose-egg next to his name.

"It's frustrating," he said. "I've been through it before as a guy that's supposed to score goals. On a nightly basis, I've been through stretches like that before. You just have to keep shooting, keep skating and find a way to get to the net."

For a baseball player in a hitting slump, sometimes it's the broken-bat single to the opposite field that gets it done. Sharp, a big baseball fan, said it can be similar in hockey.

"[In the] playoffs it's tough every time you step on the ice," he said. "The other team is keying in on guys, they're making it tough to score for anybody, but it is similar to baseball in the sense that you get one ... whether it's an infield hit or a bunt or an ugly goal or something, and it kind of helps that player. It gives him a little confidence and hopefully gets that momentum going."

Reminded of the mark on his chin where Shattenkirk's stick got him, Sharp chuckled.

"Or you get high-sticked to wake you up a little bit," he said.

Author: Brian Hedger | Correspondent

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