By Adam Hoge –
No Patrick Sharp, no problem. At least for one night.
Sharp’s replacement on the top line, Viktor Stalberg, scored his 12th goal of the season as the Blackhawks beat Florida 2-0 Wednesday night at the United Center.
The win was a good start to the key 10-game stretch the Hawks embarked on Wednesday to end the regular season. Needing every possible point to get in the playoffs and secure a good seed in the wild Western Conference, the Blackhawks caught a break Tuesday when the team found out they would not lose center Patrick Sharp for the rest of the season after he suffered an apparent knee injury Sunday in Phoenix. Head coach Joel Quenneville said he expects Sharp to return before the end of the regular season.
But the assistant captain was not on the ice Wednesday at the United Center and Stalberg got the nod next to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. From the onset, it was obvious Stalberg was ready for the promotion as he created a breakway opportuntity in the first minute of the game and drew a power play for the Hawks.
“Sharpy obviously brings the scoring and great abilities, but I gotta bring something else and bring what I can,” Stalberg said after the game. “Play a simple game and go hard to the net and try to create more space for them with my speed and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
On his first shift of the third period, Stalberg used his speed to put the Blackhawks up 2-0 and create some separation in what was a really tight game for the first 40 minutes.
“I thought he gave them some speed,” Quenneville said. “(Kane, Toews and Stalberg) were dangerous off the rush. I thought all three of them did some things tonight that made them productive.”
Quenneville went on to say that the first line is what is carrying them down the stretch, which is why it is so important for Stalberg to step in for Sharp with as much success as he had Wednesday night.
With the win, the Blackhawks are now sitting in the No. 5 seed in the west with nine games to go.