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Sharp stealing spotlight from better-known teammates

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks
Bill Smith / Getty Images

Patrick Sharp
's name isn't the first to roll off the tongue whenever people talk about the stars of the Chicago Blackhawks.

It's always included, of course, but further down the list. First, usually, is captain Jonathan Toews, followed by forwards Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. Then will come defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

By the time they get to Sharp, his name often is attached to a catch-all phrase like: "Oh yeah, they've also got Sharp," followed by something about Chicago's incredible depth of talent.

Six games into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, the player wearing No. 10 on his back is proving himself to be a lot more important to the Blackhawks than just an "also" guy, leading the team with nine points and tying for the NHL lead with six goals.

He's also taking some heat off Toews and Kane, neither of whom has scored a goal yet.

"I'm sure he loves it, all the attention," Kane said Thursday. "Hopefully as time goes on, we'll take a little bit of that pressure off him. I think that's the thing with our team. If one or two guys aren't scoring, other guys are stepping up -- Hossa, Sharp and other guys, too. That's how it's been all year, another guy keeps stepping up every night and produces somehow."

Wednesday at United Center, during the Blackhawks' 4-1 win to open a Western Conference Semifinal series against the Detroit Red Wings, Sharp assisted on Chicago's first two goals and then scored into an empty net for the final margin.

It was the third game in a row he's had a goal. Sharp has found the back of the net in four of the Blackhawks' six playoff games thus far and has recorded at least a point in five straight.

None of that should come as any surprise to those who follow the Blackhawks closely and remember their 2010 run to the Stanley Cup. Sharp and former Blackhawk Dustin Byfuglien finished tied for the team lead in goals with 11, and Sharp added 11 assists to finish third in points with 22, trailing only Toews (29) and Kane (28).

The previous two trips to the playoffs, however, gnawed at Sharp heading into this season. The Blackhawks bowed out in the first round in back-to-back years after re-tooling the roster for salary-cap issues, and no one felt the sting more than Sharp.

"I wasn't happy with the way things ended in the playoffs last year," Sharp said following Game 1 against Detroit. "That's something I carried with me all summer and [during] the lockout. I was really looking forward to getting a chance to get back in the postseason."

Now that it's happened, he's not wasting many chances to capitalize.

"He's been really good," Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford said. "That quick shot of his just handcuffs goalies sometimes … surprises them. His speed is underestimated, just how fast that guy can skate with the puck. He's definitely one of our top guys and we need him to be at his best, which he has been."

Sharp, who still hasn't experienced a Chicago defeat in regulation this season, also has a plus-6 rating and is shooting 20.7 percent on the 29 shots he's put on goal. As good as he's been offensively, his play also has been elite at the other end of the rink.

After missing 21 regular-season games with an upper-body injury, Sharp now is trying to forge a sweeter end to this season than the sting he felt by missing the middle. He's not selfish about it, either, melding his game with Kane's to form a lethal cross-ice combination on the second line.

"I don't care who scores and who gets the assists … it is all the same," Sharp said. "[The media] was beating up on me at the start of the year when I wasn't scoring and I was getting assists. Now you're telling me I'm great because I'm scoring and not getting assists … but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter who scores. Our team is going to produce goals, and it doesn't matter to us who's doing it."

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