Patrick Sharp had a look of determination on his face in the dressing room hours before the Blackhawks took the ice against the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Hawks' top goal-scorer had been struggling to find the back of the net and that explains why his celebration Wednesday night after he had scored the first goal of the Hawks' 3-1 victory over the Thrashers was more a sigh of relief than jubilation.Sharp, who had one goal in his previous 10 games, Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland scored, and Nikolai Khabibulin was outstanding in goal to lift the Hawks before a crowd of 14,029 at Philips Arena. The victory improved the Hawks' record on their season-long road swing to 5-2 with the last game Friday night in St. Louis.
"It wasn't the prettiest game we played this year, but we found a way to get the two points. That shows signs of a winning team," said Sharp, who scored his 23rd goal of the season in the second period to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead. "Personally, it feels good to contribute.
"Confidence goes up and down throughout the year. This season it's fluctuating. Our team has continued to win games, so it hasn't really hurt the team too much. It doesn't really matter who puts the puck in. Every night someone new has put it in and we're winning games, so everyone's happy."
Sharp's wrist shot from the left circle beat Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen while on the power play and Toews added a goal with a man advantage 21 seconds after the Thrashers' Ilya Kovalchuk had tied it.
"It felt like a slow game and it felt like every play we were trying to make was against the grain," said Toews, who knocked in a rebound of a Patrick Kane shot in the waning moments of the second for his 17th of the season.
"We knew we had to battle through it and not get frustrated with the puck bouncing around out there. We did a good job of protecting the one-goal lead. When it comes down to it we got the puck out of dangerous areas and especially away from their guns like Kovalchuk. We bounced back from that ugly one Saturday night (a 7-3 loss in Vancouver) and we're trying our best to get where we were playing before that."
Khabibulin made several big stops and finished with 36 saves to improve to 17-5-5 on the season.
"We didn't deserve to win, but Khabbi put on a show," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He was spectacular and the reason why we won. We weren't at our best, but Khabbi was.
"You need those types of games. We've had a few this year. Goalies have stolen some games for us this year. You don't count on those but sometimes you need them."
Bolland capped the scoring with a short-handed, empty-net goal with 10 seconds remaining and Sharp in the penalty box.
Cam Barker added two assists for the Hawks, who reached the 30-victory mark in their 52nd game of the season, 11 fewer than last season.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun