Sharp defies labels, but awareness is clear

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp is always changing the labels that describe his game.

He’s mostly known as a deadly accurate goal scorer. But at the start of this season, he was a playmaker more than anything else. People may have wondered when the goals were going to come.

Then came Round 1 of the postseason, when he tallied five times in five games against the Minnesota Wild. The Sharp shooter was back. But after his game Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings, maybe the only label Sharp should have is: good hockey player.

“I don’t care who scores or who gets the assists,” Sharp said after getting a goal and two helpers in the Hawks 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. “It’s all the same.”

“You guys were beating up on me at the start of the year when I wasn’t scoring. I was getting assists,” he said. “Now you’re telling me I’m great, because I’m scoring and not getting assists. It doesn’t matter who scores.”

No, it doesn’t, as long as someone does.

It took a while for the Hawks to get going on Wednesday, considering they had been off nearly a week and “the building was hot and legs were a little stiff,” as Sharp put it.

They began to find their groove after Sharp helped put them on the scoreboard in the first period. He pinched at the blue line, stealing a puck and starting the sequence that ended with a Marian Hossa goal.

“I was able to get it off [Brendan Smith’s] stick, then Johnny [Toews] and Hoss made a great play,” Sharp said.

But it was the awareness of Sharp -- realizing Smith had his head down -- that allowed him to quickly steal the puck and make a play. Isn’t awareness what makes the great ones great?

“Those guys know where the puck is; they know where their opportunities lie and their instincts offensively are used in the right way,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said when asked about Sharp. “Playing the team game reinforces that.

“Tonight was a good reflection of that.”

Sharp wasn’t done.

With the score tied 1-1 in the third period, he again found himself along the boards in the offensive zone. In a flash he fed defenseman Johnny Oduya, who had the best look of the night at goalie Jimmy Howard. The Hawks never looked back after that tally, which proved to be the game winner.

“Before the puck even came down to me, I saw Johnny break through,” Sharp said.

Awareness, again. Oduya knew he didn’t need to call for the puck.

“He saw me right away,” Oduya explained. “He’s a great passer, so usually you don’t have to call for it when you’re that open, so it worked out.”

Hossa also was impressed with Sharp on the play: “He had his head up the whole time, and Johnny did the rest.”

Battling an injury that shortened his regular season, Sharp had six goals and 14 assists. He then reversed those numbers in Round 1 of the playoffs, with five tallies and a helper. After assisting twice on Wednesday, he added an empty netter.

So what is Sharp?

“Sharpie is special,” Hossa said. “He knows how to play this game. He always has.”

Finally, a description that fits.