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Sharp leads Blackhawks past Devils

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- For the last few years, much of the Chicago Blackhawks' identity has centered around right wing Patrick Kane and center and team captain Jonathan Toews.

But thus far in the 2013-14 season, the Blackhawks have added a pronounced Sharp edge to the Kane-Toews tag team -- left wing Patrick Sharp, that is.

Sharp just missed having the Blackhawks' first hat trick of the season at home, scoring a pair of goals Monday night en route to an easy 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils at the United Center.

"It feels good," Sharp said. "(It was a) big win in front of our crowd and with three days off, it feels even better. We can kind of put our feet up and relax, enjoy our families and get ready for the two big games coming out of the break (host Colorado on Friday and play at St. Louis on Saturday)."

Monday's two-goal performance was yet another chapter in what has been nothing short of an outstanding first half of the season for Sharp. He now has scored 10 goals in his last 13 games and 18 overall -- second highest on the team along with 18 assists.

"I liked his game tonight, all aspects," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said of Sharp. "He was a threat to score, could have had a couple more. It was one of those nights where him and that line were very effective and I was very happy with his game, as well."

And Quenneville was happy with his team's overall game, too.

"I thought it was one of our better games all year," he said. "We did everything we were looking to do in the game. I liked their energy, their thought process, purpose, where we put pucks and scored goals by putting it at the net. The penalty kill was good, the power play was real good, so we're pleased."

Sharp put the Blackhawks (26-7-6) on the scoreboard first at 12:59 of the first period with a wrist shot that easily beat Devils goalie Cory Schneider, who started in the New Jersey net for veteran Martin Brodeur.

"When you go into the best team in the league's building and the defending Stanley Cup champs, you have to have the effort," Schneider said. "I think from me on out, just the effort wasn't there and it just wasn't good enough. Teams like that will run you out of the building if you're not at your best. I think we all as a group, including me, we can be better."

Brodeur received a rest after playing three of the Devils' last four games. The loss dropped Schneider's season record thus far to 4-8-5, while Brodeur is 11-8-2.

"It was just a messy, ugly game," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "That's a great team that can make you look bad if you're not on your game and we weren't on our game. I don't have a reason, no excuse."

While New Jersey (15-16-7) tied the game at 5:37 of the second period on right wing Stephen Gionta's tip-in (second goal of season) off a shot from defenseman Jon Merrill, the Blackhawks stormed right back with two more goals in the middle frame.

Right wing Patrick Kane tallied his team-leading 22nd goal of the season at 7:57 when he tipped in a rebound of a shot by defenseman Nick Leddy that bounced off Schneider and right onto Kane's waiting stick.

Then at 12:27, left winger Brian Bickell literally threaded the needle, finding a miniscule opening between Schneider, the left goal post and hovering teammate Andrew Shaw to sink his sixth goal of the season, making it 3-1 in Chicago's favor.

But just :59 into the third, the Devils closed the gap to 3-2 on right winger Michael Ryder's unassisted 11th goal of the season, a backhander past Chicago goalie Antti Raanta.

Less than five minutes later, Sharp somehow penetrated the Devils' normally stingy defense, went one-on-one against Schneider and tallied his second goal of the game in almost effortless fashion, making it 4-2.

Leddy scored his fifth goal of the season -- on the power play -- at 12:59 to put the game out of reach.

In the first game between the two teams since 2012, strong defense by Chicago allowed the Blackhawks to outshoot the Devils 37-12, a season low for opponents against the Blackhawks thus far.

It was Chicago's first home win vs. the Devils since Dec. 31, 2009.

Both teams came into the game 3-1-1 in their previous five games.

NOTES: The attendance was 22,019, the second-largest home crowd for the Blackhawks this season. ... Ageless Jaromir Jagr continues to astound. Now in his 20th NHL season, the 41-year-old right winger came into the game leading the Devils with 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists). Next closest was LW Patrik Elias with 24 points. ... New Jersey came into the game with 143 man-games lost due to injury. Chicago lost 80 man-games thus far. ... The Devils return to New Jersey to host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. ... The game was temporarily stopped in the first period when the Blackhawks honored a local family from suburban Crete, Ill., that has three sons currently serving in the U.S. military. And then came the greatest Christmas present of all: Army Spec. Hunter Taylor emerged to surprise his family, drawing a standing ovation -- and not to mention a number of teary eyes -- from the United Center crowd.
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