By Brian Hamilton
CHICAGO – Blackhawks teammates needled the newly 32-year-old Patrick Sharp about Friday becoming old timers’ day, but it was indeed some cagey blue-line lingering that created the chance for his first birthday goal.
His next arrived via a speed-of-sound slap shot. The third was a product of outworking a defenseman for a puck in the slot. But in a 7-2 dismantling of the Avalanche at the United Center, it was Sharp’s determined back check that spurred someone else’s scoring rush that seared into memory.
He is thermonuclear lately, having what his coach deems his best season. The assumption is that Team Canada officials shaping an Olympics roster ought to be watching, intently.
“That’s not really my decision,” Sharp said after a third career hat trick made it 16 points in his last nine games. “All I can do is let my play speak for itself.”
The production speaks emphatically, as does a linemate with a noteworthy Canadian club voice.
“I don’t think that’s even an option,” captain Jonathan Toews said of leaving Sharp off the Olympics roster.
“He has shown everything he can do throughout his career, since the last Olympics, and throughout this season. I don’t think there are any holes in his game. Obviously he’s scoring, but he’s doing a lot of other things, too. It’s a big reason why our line has been successful and our team has been successful.”
By noon Friday, the Blackhawks finished an invigorating morning skate that got the muscles and synapses firing after a 3-day layoff. Meanwhile, the Avalanche’s equipment had just arrived at the United Center, though apparently their game was left behind.
Toews added two goals, breaking a month-long dry spell, while Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg goals rounded out the rout.
“You don’t know how you’re going to play, you don’t know how your opponents are going to play,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We seem to do the right things when we do get rest. The guys handled it the right way.”
Sharp opened the scoring by outfoxing the Avalanche’s Jan Hejda during a change and charging in for his 19th goal. Toews followed by punching home a rebound, and Sharp’s blast on a power play made it 3-0 by the end of the first period.
He battled his way to the hat trick early in the second, adding the nifty stick-lifting on the Avalanche’s Matt Duchene that ultimately sprung Toews for a 5-0 lead.
“A beautiful play, a beautiful goal,” Quenneville said.
That sequence erased all doubt Friday. Sharp may be doing the same about his February plans.
“Tonight, I was getting set up with some good plays,” Sharp said. “And once you start scoring the way we were, you get a good feeling and you just want to keep that going.”