Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted: 4:29 p.m.
By Chris Boden
The Blackhawks responded to one type of adversity Sunday night in Phoenix. We now await official word on how long they'll need to respond to another type.
The team did not practice Monday upon returning from their hard-earned, gritty, 2-1 victory over the Coyotes, bouncing back from Thursday's ugly, 5-0 loss in Dallas. As a result, there was no update from the team on Patrick Sharp's apparent left knee injury that caused him to require help leaving the ice - and the remainder of the game - late in the first period. The team won't make an announcement until after Tuesday's practice.
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Upon seeing the contact that leg took in a knee-to-knee collision with Rostislav Klesla, the hope is Monday's additional tests reveal something along the lines of a week or two of required recovery, and nothing much longer. A Jobing.com Arena source who saw Sharp leave Sunday night indicated he walked on his own, likely with a brace on. While Sharp's goal production has seen a dip lately (one over the past nine games), his 34 still leads the team, and his presence on the line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has been a nightmare for opponents. Even a moderate sprain could knock him out most, if not all of the remainder of the regular season. Then again, Toews missed all of two games, when it was expected to be a two-week injury right before the New Year.
With Dave Bolland and Brian Campbell already sidelined, the Hawks would especially need to be prepared for the kind of grind-it-out urgency (which should be in place anyway) over the final ten games in order to help their cause. If there's any time for this team to be in a week where they play just once - until Sunday begins a stretch of three in four nights - now's the time. And when those injured players return, there's always the uncertainty over how productive they'll be right away.
For now, you can tentatively plan on Ben Smith being there for Wednesday's game against Florida. With Jeremy Morin sidelined more than two months now with an apparent concussion sustained against the Wolves, Smith's the most logical, responsible option available to be taken from a Rockford team that's had a rough second half. The former Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player brings in heart, smarts and speed what he may lack in size, and impressed the coaching staff more than some of the earlier "non-Morin" callups earlier in the season.
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It goes deeper than that, though, these final three weeks, especially if Sharp will be out for any significant stretch. Troy Brouwer (three points his last 19 games), Michael Frolik, Bryan Bickell and Viktor Stalberg must find another level of production, and Corey Crawford will have to play the way he did Sunday night down the stretch in order to lock in a playoff spot. The rookie going through this grind for the first time has had a bumpy couple of weeks since a highlight-reel performance in Toronto, and he was back in that form Sunday. It doesn't hurt that the he wasn't seeing frequent odd-man rushes, either, but the two late saves on Ray Whitney had Joel Quennevlle calling them the saves of the season thus far.
Our last "Hawk Talk" detailed how they have the toughest remaining schedule of any of the other Western playoff contenders. Minnesota appears to be going away, and Calgary has the fewest games remaining coming into the week, but if they get some points Monday and Wednesday at Los Angeles and at San Jose, their schedule eases up a bit. Anaheim's goaltending has settled behind Ray Emery and Dan Ellis following the loss of Jonas Hiller. Nashville's been resuscitated through its injuries by the play of kids Jonathan Blum and Blake Geoffrion.
The Hawks need the same from their depth guys to get through this painful patch, physically. They have it in them, no matter the degree of Sharp's diagnosis. If it's long-term, it's a big blow, of course. But if they bring the effort and lock-down mentality these last ten games as they did in the desert after that big dose of humiliation in Big D, we'll be doing a playoff preview three weeks from now.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.