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Patrick Sharp overlooked, underrated everywhere but in Hawks’ locker room

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford keeps his eyes puck during Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 overtime wover MinnesotWild game one opening round Stanley

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford keeps his eyes on the puck during the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild in game one of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs April 30, 2013. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 13, 2013 12:16AM



It was no surprise that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews scoring zero goals in the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff series against the Minnesota Wild was a hotter story line than Patrick Sharp scoring five.

Kane and Toews are emblems of the Hawks’ rise from the muck of the NHL to Stanley Cup championship status. Kane is the playmaking wizard. Toews seemingly is around every good thing that happens to the Hawks.

Sharp is just Sharp. He wasn’t a ballyhooed draft pick. He arrived in town without fanfare. He wasn’t a teenage prodigy. He was neither the incorrigible kid nor the mature-beyond-his-years, 22-year-old captain. All he does is act his age and score goals.

And even when you ask about the secret to his success, it still comes out — perhaps unwittingly — like a bit of a backhanded compliment.

‘‘He knows how to get open,’’ Kane said. ‘‘And when he does, he doesn’t miss often. He’s always finding himself a good chance, whether it’s around the net or in the slot.’’

Then Kane stopped himself.

‘‘I don’t want to pump his tires too much,’’ he added. ‘‘But he’s a good teammate, a good friend. He’s been awesome in the first round.’’

Nobody wants to pump anybody’s tires on this team; it seems to be an inside joke in the locker room. But rarely is anyone asked even to try with Sharp. He would be the go-to star in a lot of locker rooms. But with Toews and Kane around, Sharp easily blends into the background.

‘‘I can’t really control what outside influences have to say or think about our team,’’ Sharp, 31, said. ‘‘Those are two elite players you’re talking about. They get a lot of
attention, and that’s fine. That’s the way things are. That doesn’t bother me one bit.’’

In a way, though, it helps Sharp keep his edge.

‘‘It’s always nice to read things about yourself and hear compliments about yourself, but it doesn’t do me any good,’’ he said. ‘‘I feel like I play my best when I’m motivated and ready to go out there.’’

Unlike Kane and Toews, who were targeted for stardom as teenagers, Sharp has been fighting for recognition throughout his career. As a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, he was far down a list that was headed by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and ultimately was deemed expendable. He was traded to the Hawks in 2005 for Matt Ellison
because then-Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke and coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t know what they had.

‘‘Patrick is a natural center, not a wing, and we have too many centers,’’ Hitchcock told reporters
after the trade.

Sharp was moved to right wing and became a star. Well, not a star. He became a scorer with a knack for avoiding the spotlight. He led the Hawks with 36 goals in 2007-08, but that was the debut season of Kane and Toews. In Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2010, Sharp scored the goal that tied the game at 2-2. It was trumped by Kane’s game-winner, of course.

‘‘He’s always been pretty underrated ever since I came here, maybe one of the most underrated guys in the league,’’ Kane said. ‘‘And I don’t know if that’s because we have so many players here or what. But it’s always been kind of unfair to him.’’

With five goals against the Wild, Sharp can’t be overlooked forever. Well, he can. But like everybody else in hockey, Sharp plays to win championships. If the Hawks win another Cup, Sharp gladly will live with being the guy who knows how to get open.



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