Sharp skates, may be closing in on return

CHICAGO -- Any little bit of good news is welcome at this point for the Chicago Blackhawks, who are clinging to the last playoff spot in the Western Conference with three games to play.


On Wednesday morning they got just that when injured forward Patrick Sharp (knee) skated by himself at the United Center and took some shots against goalie Marty Turco. The Blackhawks didn't hold an official morning skate and Sharp wasn't available for comment.


However, the mere sight of Sharp back on skates has to do wonders for Hawks coach Joel Quenneville -- who will speak with reporters Wednesday evening before Chicago faces Central Division rival St. Louis in another "must-win" game.


Sharp, who leads the Hawks with 34 goals, has missed seven games since getting hurt on March 20 on the road against the Phoenix Coyotes. He'd been skating on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and that line combination was going strong.


Since Sharp's been out, Chicago has gone 3-3-1 and scored just 13 goals -- including a pair of shutout losses. The Hawks have also struggled to find the right combination on the top line with Toews and Kane -- even splitting the two stars onto different lines during a 2-1 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.


It's highly unlikely that Sharp will play on Wednesday night against the Blues, without participating in a full team practice. It is possible he may return for one of the two final games in a home-and-home series against the Detroit Red Wings this coming weekend.


Chicago, which is just two points ahead of the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars for the eighth spot in the West, is also missing center Dave Bolland (concussion) and saw forward Troy Brouwer go down early in the third against Montreal with what appeared to be a serious shoulder injury.


Brouwer, who leads Chicago in hits, didn't return and the team called up forward Ben Smith from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Wednesday.