Of all the high-flying forwards on the Chicago roster, none provoked worse memories for the Wild than Patrick Sharp. The winger was his team’s leading goal scorer in last year’s run to the Stanley Cup — and of his 10 postseason goals, five came in a first-round defeat of the Wild.
Sharp followed up with a stellar regular season, stoking expectations that he would provide plenty of firepower again in the playoffs. But entering Friday’s Game 4 against the Wild, Sharp had contributed only one goal and two assists, and his usually precise shot had lost its way. He took the first step toward breaking the slump with his first goal of the series, even as his team’s offense continued to struggle in a 4-2 loss.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville completely reconstructed his lines for Game 4, in part to try and jump-start Sharp. With 39 seconds left in the first period, Sharp collected a pass from new linemate Marian Hossa and carried the puck into the right circle, then slid it between the pads of Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
Sharp, who had been on the second line, was moved to left wing on the third with center Michal Handzus and Hossa. He had offered no excuses for his goal drought but said he, and his teammates, needed to play to their strengths to get their offense going again.
“When you lose games and you don’t contribute, it’s definitely frustrating,’’ said Sharp, who scored two game-winners against the Wild in last year’s playoffs. “I know I can be better, whether it’s making plays, whether it’s being more direct with my play, helping out my linemates.
“We trust in our coaching staff to make the right adjustments. As a player, you just kind of put your head down, get yourself ready to play and take the message that the coach is sending.’’
During the regular season, Sharp led the Blackhawks with 78 points, and his 34 goals also topped the team charts. Those totals landed him in the top 12 in the NHL in both categories. His only goal in the first nine games of the playoffs came in Game 6 of Chicago’s first-round series against St. Louis.
Sharp chipped in 10 goals and six assists as the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last spring. He led them with 11 playoff goals when they captured the Cup in 2010.
Quenneville, who does not hesitate to shuffle his lines, said the wholesale changes after Game 3 were meant to create more balance throughout the lineup. The coach attributed Sharp’s slump to the extra defensive attention he has drawn in the postseason. As teams tighten their defenses, he said, players who racked up points in the regular season often find their production suppressed. But Quenneville noted that one of the Blackhawks’ primary assets is their bevy of skilled forwards, so Sharp should not feel pressure to carry the scoring load while he seeks to regain his mojo.
“Hopefully, he can get that feeling-good streak,’’ Quenneville said. “At the same time, (Sharp’s) reliability defensively, that’s what we’re looking for, and he’s been fine in that area. Like we say a lot, we don’t care who scores, as long as we get some contributions across the board.’’
Sharp’s teammates aren’t worried, either. Smith said Sharp has been one of the team’s hardest-working players in the postseason, and he believes the tide will turn.
Sharp is counting on it. “I feel good,’’ he said. “I feel ready. There’s a lot more hockey left, I hope.’’