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Sharp snaps goal-less streak in victory

10/29/2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp insists he wasn't getting panicked over his five-game goal drought.

After putting 23 shots on goal and coming up empty over that stretch, Sharp busted out of his mini-slump -- his second five-game goal-less streak of the season -- with a dirty goal 17:33 into Monday's game against the Minnesota Wild, a contest the Blackhawks won 5-1.

Sharp put a season-high seven shots on goal in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Wild and was shut down on an early breakaway attempt in that one as well, fanning the flames of a potential extended drought for Sharp.

To try to get him going, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville put him on the team's top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on Monday night, and it didn't take long for the move to pay dividends.

Thanks to some greasy work behind the net by Hossa, the puck squirted free to Sharp at the left post, who beat Niklas Backstrom for just his second goal of the season.

"I wasn't too panicked, I've been down that road a few times," Sharp said. "I felt like I was generating chances and my linemates have been playing well. It was just a matter of time before one went in."

Sharp's streak was one of many questions the Blackhawks needed answers to Monday after playing perhaps their worst game of the season Saturday night at the United Center.

With Michal Handzus struggling this season and now out with an upper-body injury, Quenneville inserted Brandon Pirri into the second-line center spot previously occupied by the veteran. For Pirri, who led the American Hockey League in scoring last season but had played mostly on the Hawks' fourth line since being recalled from Rockford on Oct. 11, it was a chance to show what he could do.

If one game is any indication, the Blackhawks might have something with Pirri on the second line. He assisted on a pair of goals and with Brandon Saad on his left and Patrick Kane on his right, each member of the line posted a two-point night.

"Pirri is good, he had that line [going] tonight," Quenneville said. "It's a dangerous line and we'll see how it evolves and it goes, but certainly, offensively, you don't have to worry about them making plays and scoring goals."

Earlier in the day, Saad said he hoped he would be able to find chemistry with Kane and Pirri on the second line. After playing all three forward positions on virtually every forward line so far this season, Saad might have found a home -- at least for the time being.

"We've had a couple of shifts together this year, a couple looks, but to play a full game, that's the first time," Saad said. "Communication was huge. We got each other the puck and played well."

Saad and Kane looked like they had played together for years 2 minutes, 47 seconds into the third, when Saad sent a beautiful spin-o-rama pass to Kane in the slot, who finished the easy goal with Backstrom sprawled out of position.

"It's a different look for our team," Saad said. "Us three had never been together and we jelled well tonight. That's big for our team."

Monday was also a solid bounce-back game for Corey Crawford just 48 hours after his worst outing of the season. He was especially sharp early, stopping 10 shots in the opening period and 12 more in the second -- keeping Minnesota off the board long enough for the cavalry to arrive in the latter stages of the second period.

Sheldon Brookbank and Nick Leddy scored late in the second and, after Kane's tally early in the third, Saad capped the scoring in what several players hailed as the Hawks' most complete game of the season.

"In all zones, in all areas, we didn't play like we did the other day," Quenneville said. "I thought we were very loose in our last couple, three games and I thought the approach today was good and the consistency was what we were looking for in our team game. I thought we may have had the most consistent game we've had."