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Blackhawks fall in Patrick Sharp’s last game at the United Center

Patrick Sharp was still playing coy about his future Friday morning, shrugging off questions about his potential retirement by simply saying, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

But the signs that this was Sharp’s last game at the United Center were everywhere.

His parents flew in for the game. He was on the top line. He started — and was announced last, to a rousing cheer. He wore his old “A” on his jersey, an idea he said was Patrick Kane’s. In the opening minutes, Kane force-fed a pass to him on the rush rather than take the obvious shot himself. For Pat’s sake, the first song played during a stoppage in play was by Pearl Jam, Sharp’s favorite band.

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Patrick Sharp skates during Friday's game at the United Center. (Getty Images)

Then, it became more obvious. There was a “Thank You, Sharpy” tribute video late in the third period — with Sharp getting a lengthy standing ovation, pounding his chest and waving to the largest crowd of the season, 22,218. Then the Hawks stayed out on the ice after the game, waited for Sharp to shake hands with the departing Blues, and sent him on a solo lap around the ice, one last chance to say goodbye to the city he never wanted to leave.

Sharp’s career will end Saturday night in Winnipeg. But this was the emotional one, the last home game.

“It was a tough game out there, tough to concentrate with what was going on inside my head,” Sharp said after the 4-1 loss. “But thankful that I was able to do that. . . . The guys staying out on the ice and making me do a lap was something I’ll always remember. It was a special night.”

Sharp had been shrugging off the question about his future for months, but admitted Friday night that he always knew somewhere in the back of his mind that this homecoming season would probably be his last. His first Hawks tenure ended with him parading the Stanley Cup around the United Center in 2015, but then he was unceremoniously traded to Dallas in July, the first of the vaunted core to become a cap casualty.

Two years in Dallas were fine, but Chicago always was home.

“You never want to come to grips with it, to be honest with you,” Sharp said of retirement. “But that’s probably one of the reasons I came back. Chicago’s my home.”

Sharp said that Kane had some “touching words” in the dressing room after the game, during which Sharp played 19:03, his most since opening night. Coach Joel Quenne-ville even called a timeout late in the game down three goals just to keep a gassed Sharp on the ice, desperately trying to send him off with a goal. He had a great chance early in the first period that Alex Pietrangelo blocked, and another in the third that Carter Hutton saved.

But he’s not going to remember the stats from a meaningless game. He is going to remember the ovation, the stick-taps, the handshakes, the locker-room speech from Kane, that final lap around the rink he called home for 11 seasons.

“From 2005 until now, how far we’ve come as an organization and as a team, all the great players I’ve played with — I’m lucky to be part of it, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’m grateful that I got that opportunity to come back and play for the Hawks organization. That was a special feeling for me tonight.”