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Sharp, scoring again, integral to Blackhawks' success

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com

CHICAGO -- Patrick Sharp is scoring goals on a regular basis in the Stanley Cup Playoffs again, and that's good news for the Chicago Blackhawks heading into the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks.

Patrick Sharp
Left Wing - CHI
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 9
SOG: 33 | +/-: 3
Sharp has four goals, five assists and a plus-3 rating in the Blackhawks' 10 playoff games. He's one goal shy of matching his total from 19 games in last season's playoffs. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series against the Ducks is at Honda Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"It's always nice to score and contribute offensively," Sharp said after practice Thursday. "You look at every series, and they all present challenges in their own way. I'm playing a little bit of a different role [now], but I still try to get to the net and score as much as possible. Hopefully it can continue in the next round."

Sharp led Chicago with 10 goals in its 2013 Stanley Cup championship run and scored 11 in the 2010 title season to tie for the lead with Dustin Byfuglien. Sharp had 22 points in the 2010 playoffs to finish third on Chicago and fifth in the NHL, and his 16 points in the 2013 postseason tied with right wing Marian Hossa for third on the Blackhawks.

Coming off a disappointing regular season, the 32-year-old is playing like he did in the Blackhawks' two previous Cup-winning seasons.

"You could kind of see with the way he was going at the end of the regular season, you could tell he was trying to ramp it up for playoffs," said right wing Patrick Kane, whose 13 points (seven goals) lead Chicago. "We've always been accustomed to him scoring big goals in the playoffs, so it's nice to see him doing that again."

What's most impressive about Sharp's scoring in these playoffs is the role he is playing. Unlike the title seasons, he's not playing on one of Chicago's top two lines. Instead, he's playing left wing on a third line that played like an extra top-six group in the sweep of the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference Second Round.

Sharp is playing 15:39 per game, about two minutes less than he averaged in 2010 and three minutes less than he got in 2013. Sharp also logged a lot of time on the third line in the regular season, and the argument could be made that the move contributed to his decline in production.

Sharp missed a month because of a suspected knee sprain, lost his spot at left wing on the second line while he was out, and struggled to consistently score the rest of the way. He had 16 goals and 27 assists in 68 games, including four goals and three assists in the final 11, after leading the Blackhawks with 34 goals, 44 assists and 78 points in 2013-14.

Rather than grumbling about the move to the third line, Sharp found his scoring touch by narrowing his focus in the postseason.

"Sometimes you get thinking a little too much in the down parts of the season, and that can be a negative for you," Sharp said. "I think at this time of year, you throw the individual stuff out the window and focus on what's important for the team. You always do, but at this time of year, you don't worry about your ice time and you don't worry about what you're getting out there. You just go out there and do whatever you can to win that night. That's the way it usually is, but when the stakes are this high, that's what you really focus on."

Sharp's line could be a key factor against Anaheim. There's a chance the teams' top two lines might cancel each other out, leaving it up to the third and fourth lines to decide games. Playing with highly skilled rookie Teuvo Teravainen and center Antoine Vermette, Sharp's knack for scoring fits nicely with the main skills of his linemates.

Vermette's ability to win faceoffs gives them the puck a lot, Teravainen's ability to draw defenders opens room for the other two, and Sharp is a threat to score when left alone in the offensive zone.

"You look at the types of players all three of us are, and we'd like to think we mesh together on paper, and we've had some good stretches in the playoffs up to this point," Sharp said. "But whatever's happened in the first two rounds is over, and we've had a long break. We want to make sure we recapture that in the conference final."

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