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Sharp's OT winner lifts Hawks over Wings

by Brian Compton

Brian Compton | Staff Writer

-- This was the type of goal Patrick Sharp dreamed of scoring as a child while skating on the frozen ponds in his native Thunder Bay, Ontario.

With his team's season basically on the line, Sharp pulled out the defibrillator and pumped life back into the Chicago Blackhawks when he took a pretty feed from Samuel Pahlsson and ripped a wrist shot past Chris Osgood at 1:52 of overtime for a 4-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at an electric, yet relieved United Center.

The goal cut Chicago's series deficit to 2-1, with Game 4 to be played back in the Windy City on Sunday afternoon.

"I think I got one in double overtime once in the minors and in college," said Sharp, who also scored a game-opening power-play goal 8:45 into the first. "But to do it in front of our home fans … it was pretty electric all night long. The fans weren't too happy with the three-goal letdown, but it was pretty loud when that puck went in. It was a great feeling."

Not all was great about this one, though. Not only did the Hawks lose highly-skilled forward Martin Havlat roughly 14 minutes into the game on a controversial hit by Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall, but Chicago would also surrender a 3-0 lead in the second period and see goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin depart before the start of the third.

Havlat and Khabibulin are both considered day-to-day. Their statuses for Game 4 are currently unknown.

It also wasn't clear if the Blackhawks would be able to overcome such a devastating second period. Nicklas Lidstrom scored on the power play at 14:38 before Brian Rafalski and Jonathan Ericsson beat Khabibulin less than two minutes apart late in the period to completely erase Chicago's 3-0 lead.

Just when it seemed as if Game 4 was a certainty, the Blackhawks' season was in serious jeopardy.

"You could feel it coming when they scored that first power-play goal," Sharp said. "I thought for the most part, our legs were under us. They're a good skating team and they took the momentum from us."

But Cristobal Huet calmed things down for the Blackhawks in the third period and stopped all six shots he faced. It allowed Chicago to force overtime, where it wouldn't fall short the way it did three nights earlier in Detroit.

"We have to give our fans some excitement … they pay good money to come," Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell joked. "They expect a lot, and we've given it to them in many instances all season. They knew it was coming."

Perhaps, but they couldn't have known it was going to come so quickly. After holding the Red Wings to just six shots on goal in the third, the Blackhawks didn't give Detroit any time to test Huet in overtime as they controlled the puck for much of it before Sharp sealed the deal with his second goal of the night and seventh of the playoffs.

"We have no pressure here … we're just having fun playing the game," Sharp said. "The crowd was big for us all night long, especially in overtime. It was a good feeling."

Chicago wasn't the only team shorthanded. After losing Kronwall to a game misconduct following his hit on Havlat, the Wings also lost veteran forward Kris Draper to a groin injury.

Detroit was already playing without Hart Trophy candidate Pavel Datsyuk, who took a shot on the foot in Game 2.

"I thought we stuck with it," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Obviously without Kronwall, it made it a little harder. We lost Draper in the game with a pulled groin. We were a little shorthanded. That's playoff hockey. You've got to find a way to dig in."

The Blackhawks -- playing the third period without their No. 1 goalie and Havlat -- dug in and managed to find a way to make this a series. Instead of facing elimination on Sunday afternoon, they'll have a chance to tie the series and make this a best-of-three.

Canucks/Blackhawks Playoff Gear Blackhawks Gear Red Wings gear "I've been there before … it's too hard to come back (from 3-0)," Campbell said. "We needed this game in a big way. We found a way to get it. We need Game 4 now. We're excited and we'll be ready to go.

"It's a big game to win … it gets us back in the series. We have to take care of business at home. Everybody's excited. We worked hard and we deserved what we got tonight."

For Sharp, the timing couldn't have been any better. Not only did he give his team life, but he also scored arguably the biggest goal of his existence in front of someone awfully close to him -- someone who shared the same childhood dreams on the same ponds all those years ago.    "My brother's in town and he hasn't seen a Hawks game live since last year," Sharp said. "It's a good feeling to put one in tonight in front of him and celebrate with the guys."

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Looking to cut a two-goal deficit in half, the trio of Darren Helm, Mikael Samuelsson and Daniel Cleary kept the puck in the Blackhawks' zone for a solid minute before Brian Rafalski beat Nikolai Khabibulin with a shot from the point -- thanks to a screen in front by Cleary -- with 2:50 remaining in the second period to make it 3-2.

Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, who picked up his game tremendously and received roughly 25 minutes in ice time.

Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet relieved the ailing Nikolai Khabibulin at the start of the third period, marking the first time Huet's seen action since April 11 -- a 4-2 win at Detroit. Corey Crawford, who spent the regular season with Rockford in the American Hockey League, was Huet's backup.

All three of Detroit's goals in the second period were scored by defensemen and came with less than five minutes to go. Nicklas Lidstrom made it 3-1 at 14:38 via the power play, followed by even-strength goals by Brian Rafalski (17:10) and Jonathan Ericsson (19:01).

Time will tell as to whether Niklas Kronwall will be in the Red Wings' lineup for Game 4 on Sunday afternoon following his hit on Martin Havlat at the Chicago blue line with 6:52 left in the first period. Kronwall appeared to have left his feet on the play and was handed a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct. Havlat was able to get up after roughly two minutes and left the ice with the help of team physicians. He did not return.

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