The Blackhawks and Bruins learned a lot about each other the last two weeks, and the respect between the two teams was demonstrable even before the handshakes and hugs.
But sitting in a quiet Boston locker room late Monday, Johnny Boychuk singled out one particular Hawks forward.
“That’s a talented team. We knew it would be a challenge,” Boychuk said. “There’s a lot of depth there, and they come at you in waves.
“The guy I didn’t know that much about was (Patrick) Sharp, in terms of not having played against him much. He’s a tough guy. He plays tough. Really impressed me.
“He’s all over the ice. He bangs, he gets a lot of pucks on net, and he scores goals and he plays in his own end. He’s a heck of a player, a heck of a leader.”
Boychuk would know, since he seemed to be in a battle with Sharp every game, but Boychuk would probably be surprised to learn that Sharp had only 2 points in the series — goals in Games 2 and 4 — and still led all postseason scorers with 10 goals.
But Sharp was so much more than that. He was fearless when others were afraid. He hit when others could not. He backchecked when times were tough. He came to the defense of teammates who couldn’t stick up for themselves, even though Sharp himself looked small compared to the Big Bad Bruins.
And Sharp was always buzzing the goal, working in traffic and crashing the net, even though both his linemates — Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus — were suffering with serious injuries and probably holding back Sharp from being more productive.
“It’s not the time of year to feel tired, even though everyone is,” Sharp said on the ice early Tuesday morning while the Hawks celebrated their victory at TD Garden. “I love playing in these games and I love being in this moment. I grew up wanting to be here and wanting to be in this game.”
As was the case in 2010, Sharp was not always on the score sheet, but he was always in the corners fighting for loose pucks and he was always supporting teammates.
And Monday night he very much wanted that game-winning goal.
“I take a lot of pride in not feeling pressure,” Sharp said. “I want the puck and I want to be the guy in the big situation. I’ve had dreams about scoring that goal to win the Cup. I’m jealous of (Patrick Kane) that he got it last time, and now I’m jealous of (Dave Bolland).”
There was some question after the last Cup about whether Sharp would survive the deficit reduction, but his play throughout the 2010 postseason made that an easy call for Stan Bowman.
Once again, it’s hard to imagine the Hawks moving forward without a guy who does so much more than the score sheet would suggest, though he did finish the series with 15 hits and 35 shots on goal.
There will be changes to the roster again as the Hawks get under the cap, but they won’t lose half a roster as they did three years ago.
“We lost a lot of guys last time and I’m just fortunate that (GM) Stan Bowman thought enough of me to keep me around,” Sharp said. “When you think about what we had to do, it’s a credit to the management and the coaching staff that we’re back here.
“They’ve drafted well and developed players, and for us to be in this situation again three years down the road, especially after the breakup we had from that 2010 team, it’s a great success.”
It also doesn’t happen without men of character, and at this time of year Sharp is a man’s man, the kind who will do anything to win.
“Yeah, he kind of flies under the radar around here with all the talent we have up front,” Joel Quenneville said with a smile after the Hawks won the Cup. “But he’s a warrior. He’ll do anything you need and you can put him out there in any situation.
“He’s done a heck of a job for us in every way. Heck of a hockey player. Heck of a hockey player.”
Sharp seems completely comfortable with who he is, and at 31 he’s aware that nothing lasts forever.
“This is why you the play the game your whole life, for this moment,” he said, still breathing hard 45 minutes after Game 6 had ended. “It’s so hard to win a series, let alone four series, and then this is the greatest feeling in the world and you don’t want it to go away.
“It’s indescribable. Really, you just kind of shake your head a lot. It’s just amazing.”
In so many ways, so is Patrick Sharp.
ŸListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.