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Byfuglien unleashed, Blackhawks overwhelming

Chicago Blackhawks' Kris Versteeg celebrates after scoring the first goal against Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo as Canucks' Pavol Demitra looks on during first period of game 3 NHL western conference playoff hockey action at GM Place in Vancouver, Wednesday, May 5, 2010


The giant had been slumbering through two games of the Western Conference semi-finals.

But Dustin Byfuglien, Chicago's enormous forward, awoke in Game 3, netting a hat trick as the Blackhawks defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on Wednesday to snare a 2-1 lead in the NHL playoff series.

Byfuglien, the 257-pound winger who annoys Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo to no end, was inserted onto Chicago's top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane after playing on the fourth unit, and on defence, during the opening two contests in the Windy City.

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"He had a big impact on the game," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. "He was quick, physical, he had presence around the net and some finish.

"He's picking up where he left off last year."

Quenneville finally unleashed him to fill the net-front role that had gotten more ink than results thus far in the series, and Byfuglien responded with his first three goals of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Minneapolis disturbed Luongo from that spot in Chicago's semifinal victory last year, and he was up to his old tricks in Game 3, scoring on nothing but rebounds near the crease.

"No, not really," Byfuglien said when asked if any Canuck could contain him once he stations himself in the low slot. "It's my job to get position and make them work around me."

Asked if he thought the Canucks were distracted by his physicality at the net, Byfuglien said: "I definitely think so. They got to worry about me coming and worry about getting hit."

The Canucks, meanwhile, say they now must fight the series as Chicago has, with lots of traffic and bumps on Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi.

The Finnish rookie strung two solids starts together for the first time in these playoffs, making 31 saves, including several dandies in the first period when Vancouver was the better team.

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"It's huge getting a 2-1 lead here," Niemi said. "[The performance]is keeping my confidence at a good level, but even if I would have had a bad game, I wouldn't have thought about it much."

Byfuglien scored two power-play goals, one five minutes into the first period, and a second to put the visitors up 3-1 midway through the second. He also made certain to brush Luongo a few minutes before his hat-trick goal in the third, contact that finally got the Canucks goaltender complaining to the referees.

"We know what's been allowed and permitted in front of the net," Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault said. "We have to do the same things."

Toews finished with three assists, while Alexander Edler and Sami Salo each had a pair of helpers for Vancouver. Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows scored for the home side.

It was Burrows's second goal of the postseason. His first came into an empty net. He hadn't beaten a goalie since March 30.

Kane was initially credited with Byfuglien's third goal, to seal the win with six minutes left, but it was changed after the game by NHL stat keepers. Both players crashed the net hard, and pushed everything in sight -- Luongo included -- over the goalline

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On his second goal, Byfuglien celebrated by spreading his arms wide and taunting the crowd at GM Place. The goal came with Burrows in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct for shoving Brian Campbell after the whistle.

The patrons, all 18,810, roared their disapproval when a corresponding Blackhawk was not penalized.

Scrums and post-whistle pushing was the order of the day, as both teams turned up the dislike at the expense of discipline. Vancouver players had specifically said they would not lose their cool just one day earlier, but that seemed forgotten late when Shane O'Brien and Burrows took 10-minute misconducts.

"I don't think our composure was an issue," Vigneault said, instead placing the blame on a lack of a finish in the first period.

Meanwhile, Marian Hossa, who has lost the last two Stanley Cup finals, notched his first point of the series by beating a stick-less O'Brien to the front of the Vancouver net, and converting a rebound for a 4-2 Chicago lead in the third.

The shift in venue also brought a reversal in first-period fortune.

The Blackhawks, slow starters on home ice, burst out to a 2-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes. Kris Versteeg, the hero of Game 2, scored five minutes into the game, after Andrew Alberts lost a battle behind the net, and after Luongo and Kevin Bieksa couldn't corral a loose puck.

The Canucks outshot the Hawks 16-12 through one, but Niemi was on his game, making some splendid saves on Daniel Sedin, Hansen and Steve Bernier. The goaltender was also helped by blocked shots, a category the Hawks dominated 16-7.

Sedin also stepped out of character following a slash from Dave Bolland in the first.

Though the Canucks have talked often about maintaining their cool, Sedin retaliated and both players were sent off for roughing. Sedin and Bolland -- perhaps the quietest guys on their respective teams -- then trash-talked all the way to the box, and throughout their penalties.

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About the Author
B.C. sports correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Matthew spearheads the Globe's sports coverage in B.C., and spends most of his time with the NHL Canucks and CFL Lions. He has worked for four dailies and TSN since graduating from Carleton University's School of Journalism a decade ago, and has covered the Olympic Games, Super Bowls, Grey Cups, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA Finals. More


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