Remember the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? It's a word game based on the concept of six degrees of separation, and starts with the premise that everybody in the Hollywood film industry can be linked - in six steps or fewer – to the actor Kevin Bacon.
Well, in the Western Conference final against the Los Angeles Kings, the part of Kevin Bacon can be played by Patrick Sharp, who was has been arguably the Chicago Blackhawks best forward in these playoffs, playing on a variety of lines for coach Joel Quenneville.
At the moment, Sharp is playing mostly with a pair of Slovaks, Michal Handzus and Marian Hossa – and Sharp was reminding everybody Monday that he and Handzus have a history dating back to their days together in the Philadelphia Flyers' organization. Handzus was added by the Blackhawks at the trading deadline as a depth player, who wasn't playing regularly for the San Jose Sharks.
The connection there was to Quenneville, who coached Handzus in St. Louis and put in a good word for a slowing, but still crafty and intelligent pro. Quenneville imagined Handzus as a fourth-line part-time penalty killing and faceoff specialist, but he has become more than that, playing up on the second line, in part because Dave Bolland is always dealing with an injury of some description or other.
But now that Bolland is back, Handzus is still playing a top-six role, even if he doesn't have the stamina he once had – and tends to tire a little towards the end of shifts – he has been effective.
"Yeah, I played with Handzus on three different teams now," says Sharp. "He's a guy that can play in every situation. He has an offensive touch that he probably doesn't get enough credit for. He's good on faceoffs, can play defensively, can play special teams. The thing he's added to our team more than anything is leadership. He says the right things at the right time.
"A guy that clearly wants to win at this stage in his career. He's been on a lot of good teams. You can tell he really has that passion to get it done this year.
"As far as our chemistry together, I feel like I know how he plays from watching him. I had a pretty good seat to watch him in Philadelphia for a couple years there. I know what he's all about. I feel like he can help keep us going."
Sharp joined the Blackhawks back in December of 2005, in a one-sided deal for Eric Meloche and a third-round draft choice and morphed into one of the top two-way players in the league. He leads Chicago in goals (eight) and points (14), just ahead of Hossa at 13. The year before, during the 2004-05 lockout, Sharp was playing for the Flyers' minor-league affiliate, the Phantoms, when a pair of young and highly regarded draft choices, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, arrived just in time to help the team with an American Hockey League championship. Sharp had an AHL-leading 21 points in 21 games during that span.
So Sharp got to know them both as impressionable young kids and Richards – L.A.'s leading playoff scorer - was a focal point heading into Tuesday's Game 3, given that he suffered a suspected concussion in the series opener on that hit from Bolland and was an 11th-hour scratch for Game 2. Kings' coach Darryl Sutter confirmed Tuesday morning that the centre will also miss Game 3.
With Richards out, the Kings will likely stick with the revised second line which featured Carter, Dustin Penner and rookie Tyler Toffoli, the only unit to provide offence in Game 2, accounting for both goals.
"I played with Richie," said Sharp. "I think everybody knows what type of player he is, how valuable he is to whatever team he's playing on. He's won at every level. When you take a guy like that out of their lineup, I'll let them answer how it affects their team … but I'm sure it's a big loss for them."
A loss that's exacerbated by the fact that two-thirds of the Kings' top line – Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown – has struggled to score thus far in the playoffs. Kopitar has seven points in 15 games, Brown just four – after the two were the co-leaders last year in playoff scoring with 20 points apiece.
"I don't lose any sleep over Kopy," said Sutter. "He's not a guy that takes shortcuts. He does everything he can do well.
"When Kopy has the puck, he's a top player in the league. When he doesn't have the puck, he's a good checker. That means he could have the puck a little more. Quite honestly, he can support the puck better. Certainly, whoever he plays with can feel privileged that they're playing with a top player. They should be doing everything they can to play with him."