Sharp, Smith have jumpstarted Blackhawks
DETROIT -- One guy came back from his injury earlier than anyone anticipated. The other came up from the minors with no idea what he was in for.
They've both had a huge impact on the Chicago Blackhawks in the last two games.
Veteran All-Star Patrick Sharp has been unexpectedly excellent despite not being 100 percent healthy, while 22-year-old rookie Ben Smith has been just as solid and important to Chicago's last two wins despite not being caught up in a whirlwind of emotions.
Without the two of them, are the Blackhawks one point away from clinching a playoff berth?
It's a fair question to ask considering Sharp and Smith have had a direct impact on both the wins that got the Blackhawks to the brink, needing only one point in Sunday's game against Detroit (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN) to secure a playoff berth.
"I don't think I'm where I'd like to be (health-wise)," Sharp told NHL.com, "but this time of the year it's important that everyone helps out and that's what I've been doing."
The Blackhawks' latest surge actually started when Sharp started to feel more comfortable on the ice Wednesday.
Chicago rebounded from a 2-0 deficit against St. Louis to win in overtime, 4-3. It jumped all over the Red Wings on Friday with three goals in the first 8:45 en route to a 4-2 win at Joe Louis Arena.
"It certainly helped the locker room with his leadership and presence," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Sharp, "and (it helped) the options we have as a coaching staff to do different things."
Smith has surprisingly done that as well even though he isn't totally sure he knows where he is.
It was only Wednesday morning when he was officially re-called from Rockford of the American Hockey League; later that night, he was thrown into the deep end in what was basically a must-win game against St. Louis.
The rookie from Boston College, who won an NCAA championship last season, played well enough to earn a shift in the final minute of regulation. He finished the game playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Michael Frolik, and the trio showed instant chemistry.
Quenneville had them together again Friday night, and Smith wound up scoring his first career goal in his fifth NHL game. Kane had a pair of assists and Frolik had one as well. Smith and Frolik each had three shots on goal.
"That line has been pretty special in the couple of games they've been together as far as being in plays, play recognition and being in a strong position," Quenneville said. "They were dangerous all night long and they could have had some more. I think they are three guys who all have good senses offensively and defensively, and in a short amount of time it looks like there is already a little chemistry there."
There's similar chemistry on the Blackhawks' revamped top line of Sharp with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
Sharp and Hossa had assists on Brent Seabrook's goal 27 seconds into the game, with Sharp eyeing the defenseman cutting from the right point and feeding him a diagonal pass from the far corner that Seabrook hammered into the net. Sharp and Toews were on the ice when Hossa scored his power-play goal 6:44 into the second period that gave the Blackhawks a 4-0 cushion.
"I know that line gives you a lot of options," Quenneville said, "and the fact that (Sharp) got back way ahead of schedule certainly helps, too."
Smith said all he has to do is look at Sharp and see what he's doing essentially playing on one bum leg to feel fully invested in the Blackhawks' playoff chase.
Save for a three-game stint from Oct. 29-Nov. 1, Smith has spent the entire season in the minors so he hasn't felt the same pressures, highs and lows as the rest of his teammates. He does now.
"Just look around, the guys all want it so badly," Smith told NHL.com. "A lot of these guys won it last year and they know what it takes, how hard it is to get there. You can see they want that feeling again. It's contagious right down from (Toews) right through Sharpie, everyone wants it."
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Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer