Byfuglien banged in a pair of power-play rebounds and completed his hat trick in the third period to lift the Blackhawks to a 5-2 win over the Canucks and a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series on Wednesday night.
“He was in the middle of everything,” said Marian Hossa(notes), who scored 7:45 into the third period to give Chicago a 4-2 lead. “He’s dominating in the corners, in the physical department and I think he was frustrating their team.”
Dismissed by the Canucks before the series as a non-factor despite scoring two of his three career playoff goals against them last season, Byfuglien was the biggest factor in putting Chicago ahead in the series for the first time.
Moved back up front and onto the top line after playing defense in Game 2, the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Byfuglien went hard to the net all night, tucking in power-play rebounds in the first and second periods. He was credited with his third goal with 6:02 left after pushing Roberto Luongo(notes) into his net, leaving the goalie upset and the Canucks pledging retaliation.
“I think so,” Byfuglien said when asked if he was throwing the Canucks off their game. “They’ve got to worry about me coming and worry about getting hit.”
The Canucks seemed most worried about clearing Byfuglien out of Luongo’s face. Byfuglien doesn’t expect that to happen.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said.
If not, Luongo would like to see his teammates at least make life just as difficult for his Chicago counterpart. Antti Niemi(notes) made 16 of his 31 saves in the first period, but didn’t have to fight through nearly as much traffic.
“If they do it on us and its not being called, we have to do the same thing on the other side to at least get it even up as far as advantages are concerned,” said Luongo, who finished with 30 saves. “We have to get some traffic.”
“We built a lot of confidence in Game 2, but we knew it didn’t mean much if we didn’t come and keep playing the same way,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews(notes), who had three assists. “We did a lot of good things and put them on their heels for the most part.”
Jannik Hansen(notes) and Alex Burrows scored for the Canucks, who will try to even the series when they host Game 4 on Friday night. Vancouver will have to do a better job on special teams and against Byfuglien.
“We’re going to have to do a better job of protecting the front of our net,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “At the same time, we know what’s being allowed and permitted on the ice in front of the nets and we have to do the same thing.”
Byfuglien started the series on the fourth line and moved to defense in Game 2, but he shifted to the top line with Toews and Patrick Kane(notes). But as he did in last year’s series against Vancouver, Byfuglien took his usual position in front of the net on the power play and made the Canucks pay.
Pointless in his first eight playoff games, he lifted in a power-play rebound with 3:13 left in the first period after Toews won a faceoff cleanly and Luongo bobbled Duncan Keith’s(notes) unscreened shot from the point.
Hansen pulled the Canucks within a goal midway through the second, but Burrows took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty 2 minutes later. Byfuglien then lifted in another rebound after Toews drove to the net along the goal line.
“Big Buff, he’s doing what he’s got to do, he’s crashing,” Toews said. “When there is a puck race or a battle, their players definitely know he’s there and give him a little more respect, so its good for whoever is playing with him. Just try to make plays and get pucks to the net and you saw what happens.”
Burrows made up for the undisciplined penalty by snapping a wrist shot from the slot under Niemi’s blocker off the rush with 54 seconds left in the period. But any hope of Vancouver adding to an NHL-leading 13 third-period comebacks ended when Hossa beat Shane O’Brien(notes) to a rebound for an easy goal at 7:45.
Byfuglien, who skated along the end boards taunting the crowd after his second goal, was back in the spotlight - and on top of Luongo - for the third. Luongo was in position to make the save before Byfuglien pushed him into the net, but the goal - originally given to Kane - was upheld after a video review.
Byfuglien doesn’t think he is getting Luongo off his game, but he admitted that seeing the goalie talking to the officials could mean he is getting close.
“He doesn’t like to talk too much, but he’s not afraid to,” Byfuglien said. “When he does, I think it means you are getting into his head, I guess,” he said.
NOTES: To make room for Byfuglien, Chicago scratched Vancouver native Troy Brouwer(notes), who scored 22 goals in the regular season but was pointless in eight playoff games. D Jordan Hendry(notes), who played Game 1 but sat out Game 2, took Byfuglien’s place on the third defense pairing alongside Brent Sopel(notes). … Fourth line Vancouver C Ryan Johnson(notes) returned after missing a month because of a broken foot, but the shot-blocking, penalty-killing specialist was on the ice for the first goal. He also lost the faceoff cleanly to Toews on the second. Speedy rookie Michael Grabner(notes), who scored in Game 1 but played just 4:19 in Game 2, was scratched to make room for Johnson.
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