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Sharp beginning to find offense for Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com

CHICAGO -- His scoring touch left him for a long stretch of games, but forward Patrick Sharp is starting to round into form at just the right time for the Chicago Blackhawks.

His goal production is trending up as the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach, and that's a welcome relief for a team that's missing its most potent offensive threat. If the Blackhawks are going to survive long enough to get injured right wing Patrick Kane back, they're going to need one of Sharp's patented postseason runs.

Other players were more heralded in Chicago's 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup championship runs, but Sharp's name was at the top of the goals column on the stat sheet each time. Odds are he'll be up there again if the Blackhawks cap these playoffs with another title.

"Everybody wants to gear up for the end of the season and what's to come," said Sharp, who has two goals in the Blackhawks' current four-game win streak. "You know, for whatever reason it's been a tough season individually, offensively, putting up points and scoring goals. But I think our team's right where we want to be. We're playing better hockey as of late, individually, and I think we're trending in the right direction."

The Blackhawks play the St. Louis Blues at United Center on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) in a big game for each team. The Blues are a point ahead of Chicago in a four-game sprint to determine the standings in the Central Division.

Sharp's play the past couple weeks has helped quite a bit. After going through a two-month stretch with a goal and 11 assists in 26 games, he's finally putting pucks in the net with more regularity. Sharp has five goals and four assists in 10 games since his scoring slump ended, including two goals in the Blackhawks' 6-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on March. 14.

That was the capper to Chicago's dads trip, and Sharp's father, Ian, was watching in person. Sharp credits that trip, and some advice from his dad, for sparking his turnaround.

"It was pretty important," Sharp said. "My dad's been fighting for a lot of years and it was nice to spend some time with him on the road."

Ian Sharp is battling a form of Leukemia, and has fought it for several years. Whenever he starts to get down on himself, Sharp said he thinks of his dad's perseverance.

"It kind of puts things into perspective, having a rough season as a team and as an individual, whatever's going on in your life," Sharp said. "Sometimes I forget what he's going through. I'll have a tough practice or tough game or tough stretch of games, and I think things are hard in my life. And then I talk to my dad, and realize what he's dealing with. It gives you perspective and makes you play that much harder."

The Blackhawks are a lot better when Sharp is highly motivated.

He's 33 now, but still has high-end speed that can overwhelm opposing defenders and goaltenders. His shot, of late, is also coming around. Through the course of this season, he's honed a quick, hard wrist shot off the rush that is nearly unstoppable off breakaways or shootout attempts.

Still, Sharp's underrated grit is what impressed Jamal Mayers most when they were Blackhawks teammates. Asked what makes Sharp vital to Chicago, and the forward-turned-analyst mentioned drive and snarl first.

"He's a winner," said Mayers, who hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013. "He's willing to do the things that you don't really see and willing to find a way to make himself relevant and step up at the right times and play the right way. Whenever anybody who's a skill player like him steps outside of himself and plays with more aggression, maybe he throws his body around when he has to, everyone on the bench takes notice."

That includes the opposing bench. Sharp isn't going to drop his gloves to fight very often, but he's also not willing to be pushed around. It's a trait he's grown over the years, along with other assets gained through experience.

"He's a smart player," Mayers said. "He's a very smart hockey guy, and I think when you get older, you start to have a better perspective on the whole picture. He's had that since I've known him, and that only comes from experience."

It certainly comes in handy at this time of year. The postseason isn't here yet, officially, but it might as well be for the teams bunched up atop the Central. If the Blackhawks come out on top, in that race or the playoffs, Sharp's goal-scoring prowess will likely be a factor.

"Every player's got a role, whether it's scoring goals or killing penalties," he said. "Some guys get more headlines than others, but I definitely know what my role is on the team, from my coaching staff and my teammates. Come playoff time and even down the stretch, I want to make sure I play as best I can."

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