Patrick Sharp is saving his best for last.
The Blackhawks' veteran winger was all over the ice Wednesday night with a pair of assists and an empty-net goal in a 4-1 win over Detroit in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Tim Sassone's 3 stars1. Patrick Sharp, Hawks
The veteran winger set up 2 goals and was rewarded by the hockey gods for his strong game with an empty-netter with 49 seconds to play.
2. Johnny Oduya, Hawks
The defenseman scored the game-winning goal with 11:58 to play and was plus-3 for the night.
3. Jimmy Howard, Red Wings
Goalie made 38 saves on 41 shots to keep his team in the game until late in the third period.
-- Tim Sassone
Sharp did all the dirty work on Johnny Oduya's goal at 8:02 of the third period that snapped a 1-1 tie.
"Before the puck even came to me (from a Patrick Kane cycle), I saw Johnny break through," Sharp said. "I don't know what happened to the coverage, but it was a great play by Johnny to get open, and I just wanted to get it to him in his area."
Sharp has 6 goals in the playoffs, or as many as he scored during an injury-filled regular season. He also has 3 assists and is plus-6 in six games.
"I mean, it's playoffs, and I wasn't happy with the way things ended last year in the playoffs," Sharp said. "It's something I carried with me all summer and lockout and was really looking forward to the postseason.
"I don't care who scores or who gets the assists. It's all the same. You guys were beating up on me at the start of the year when I wasn't scoring and I was getting assists, and now you're telling me I'm great because I'm scoring.
"It doesn't matter who scores, our team is going to produce goals and whoever is doing it doesn't matter to us."
The Hawks dominated the second and third periods, outshooting the Red Wings 17-5 in the second and outscoring them 3-0 in the third thanks to a forecheck Detroit has no answer for.
"I don't know if they had their legs in the first period," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "The first period was pretty even, but I thought they skated way better than we did in the second and third.
"I was hoping to come in here and steal this first game. I'm not taking anything away from them; they were better than us."
Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard made 38 saves to keep his team in the game.
"He had to be (good). We weren't good enough in front of him," Babcock said. "We gave up too many opportunities and made some key mistakes down the stretch."
Hawks goalie Corey Crawford had to make only 20 saves to win his fifth game of the playoffs. Damian Brunner scored on his own rebound in the first period and nearly had another goal in the third period when he hit the crossbar when it was still 3-1.
Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook bailed out Crawford by arriving just in time to swat Brunner's rebound out of the air before it could hit the ice and possibly bounce into the net.
"Crow made the initial save and it kind of felt like it was going in slow motion," Seabrook said. "It was spinning and luckily it hit the crossbar. It kept spinning down low and I just tried to get my stick on it."
Oduya's goal was his second of the playoffs. He finished the night plus-3.
"As the game prolonged I think we took over and put more pressure on them," Oduya said. "At that point it could have been anybody (scoring). I thought we had a lot of chances."
Marcus Kruger scored three minutes later to make it 3-1, beating Howard on a backhander into the empty net. Daniel Carcillo saved a whistle by batting the puck off the back of the net while Howard tried to freeze it.
The Red Wings had only 12 shots through two periods yet were very much in the 1-1 game going to the third.
Marian Hossa's power-play goal at 9:03 of the first period opened the scoring. Sharp stole the puck from Kyle Quincey along the boards and got it to Jonathan Toews, who fed Hossa in the deep slot for a quick snapper past Howard.
The Hawks' penalty killers, a perfect 17-for-17 in the first round against Minnesota, picked up where they left off against the Wild by going 3-for-3 in Game 1.
Pavel Datsyuk didn't have a shot, while Henrik Zetterberg had just 4.
"If you don't really have your legs, then you can't really get your game going," Zetterberg said, alluding to the fact Detroit had to play a tough Game 7 against Anaheim on Sunday.
"It would've been nice if we'd gotten one in on the power play there. We had a few chances but couldn't really find a way to score a goal."
• Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.