Hawk Talk: Shufflin' Byfuglien

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Hawk Talk: Shufflin' Byfuglien

Monday, June 7, 2010
11:05 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO The biggest man on the Chicago Blackhawks was in danger of completely disappearing from the Stanley Cup Finals.

Dustin Byfuglien was largely a non-factor through the first four games (one assist, six shots, minus-3) and having a forgettable Game 4 that found him nibbling at the bait left him by the likes of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger and helping to bury the Blackhawks with bad penalties.

But thanks to a lineup shuffle by coach Joel QuennevilleByfuglien dropped from the top line to a third grouping flanked by Dave Bolland and Kris Versteegand determined, steely play, the fifth-year man exploded with only the fourth Blackhawks game of two goals and two assists in the teams last 20 postseasons.

Several Blackhawks marveled not only at Byfugliens scoring outburst and NHL playoffs-high fifth game-winning goal, but his game-high nine hits. Center Dave Bolland admitted that the entire Blackhawks bench was up and cheering on one of Big Buffs hits on Pronger, invigorating the team.

Byfuglien gets the team going with how physical he can be, he said. Everyone on our bench was up and cheering after he tagged Pronger.

Pronger, who had managed to neutralize Chicagos previous top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Byfuglien in the Philadelphia leg of the Finals, not only had his worst game of the series and worst postseason game ever, but his minus-five rating (as well as being on the ice for six of Chicagos goals, including a power-play goal by Byfuglien during which the burly forward was camped at the Flyers crease, presumably wagging his tongue at the giant in the box) was the worst of the defensemans entire career. (In has been 15 years since a minus-five was laid down in a SCF gameBob Errey for the 1995 Detroit Red Wings).

But dont expect Byfuglien to gloat too much over trumping a player in Pronger who was drafted into the NHL when the gentle giant from Minnesota was just eight years old

Hes out there to battle, Byfuglien said of Pronger, while acknowledging he didnt think his nemesis had won any big battles in the series. So am I. Im going to try to get the best of him and be strong. Thats all I have to do.

Simple statements, perhaps. But theres little doubt that Byfugliens teammates consider him half-man, half-amazingwith a whole lotta happiness sprinkled in.

Hes always a happy guy, always in a good mood, Blackhawks alternacap John Madden said. But on the ice, he enforces the law on people.

Hes kind of a bubbly guywin or lose, hes fun to be around, companion Chicago alternacap Duncan Keith said. But sometimes he just wants to go, and nothings going to stop him.

Kane, who added an assist to his goal, had a different, more humorous read on Byfuglien going ham in Game 5: He got rid of me and Toews and thats all he needed.

For his part, Byfuglien mostly shrugged off how much more effective he was in Game 5.

I dont know if I really got off my game, he said. I just wasnt getting the bounces and the things that make me happy. I knew I had to come in, work hard and do the best I can to help the team.

Humble to the core, the power forward was direct and succinct in diagnosing how the Blackhawks got back on track.

Getting down there two games in their building, we had to come back with some fire, get on them and show them we werent going to quit, Byfuglien said. Right from the get-go, we just moved our feet and stayed physical.

As for Pronger, he mostly avoided talk of Byfuglien postgame, but did allow for a typically sarcastic crack in response to Big Buffs breakout game: I guess hes been well-rested.

Funny, though, that one of the benefits the Flyers immediately seized on regarding the relative rarity of the two off-days before Game 6 was that it would allow the 66 defenseman an extra day of recovery from his heavy minutes loads.

You can imagine Byfuglien letting Grandpa Pronger know just that on Wednesday, crowing from his campground somewhere in front of the Philadelphia crease.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya finds a new home in Eastern Conference

Johnny Oduya is headed to the Eastern Conference.

The 35-year-old defenseman signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ottawa Senators. The contract could be worth up to $1.25 million with incentives.

Oduya, who the Blackhawks re-acquired prior to the trade deadline last season from the Dallas Stars, finished with two goals and seven assists in 52 games between the two teams.

It comes to no one's surprise that the Blackhawks didn't re-sign the veteran defenseman.

After being swept in the first round of the playoffs last season by the Nashville Predators, Stan Bowman has made it clear the Blackhawks are headed in a different direction, and their offseason has been plenty of busy so far. Headline deals included trading Oduya's linemate Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy and re-acquiring Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin.

Oduya heads to a Senators team which got ousted in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Confident Blackhawks youth ready to take the next step

Ryan Hartman likes how he feels approaching this season, his sophomore stint with the Blackhawks. Scoring 19 goals, earning the trust of the coaches and gaining a good deal of responsibility in your rookie season will do that for you.

“It’s feeling like I should be there,” he said on Friday. “Maybe sometimes when you first get called up, you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m here,’ and you’re still thinking about that. Now it’s just feeling like hockey for me and how it’s always supposed to be.”

More confidence is there for Hartman, as well as a few other young Blackhawks players who cut their teeth last year. That’s good, because those guys, having shown what they can do, will likely get more responsibility this season.

That includes Nick Schmaltz, who will either get first crack at the second-line left wing vacancy or help the Blackhawks at center, which he says is his preference “but I’m fine with wing, too.” Schmaltz struggled to start last season but following a few games in Rockford, he returned a more confident player. He played well with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik on the top line and filled in for Artem Anisimov later in the season.

“I was nervous coming in. I didn’t know if it was going to work and I gained confidence game by game and felt more comfortable,” he said. “I was making the plays I’m used to making.”

When Tanner Kero was recalled right before Christmas, it was because of Anisimov’s injury. But outside of a bye-week return to Rockford Kero turned that call-up into a full-time gig, giving the Blackhawks another bottom-six center option and earning himself a two-year contract. With Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen no longer here, Kero is expected to have that third- or fourth-line center role; thanks to experience gained last season, Kero’s more comfortable now.

“It was great,” he said. “Going in, you’re not sure. It’s day-to-day to start and you just want to prove yourself and get those opportunities, get trust and more ice time. As the season went on I got more confident, trusted my game more. Going into the season I’m going in with a lot more confidence.”

John Hayden felt fairly comfortable when he joined the Blackhawks last spring thanks to his senior season at Yale – “I needed that fourth year as a player and a person,” he said. Still, getting in some NHL games, getting a feel for the pro level and gaining familiarity with the Blackhawks will benefit him in September.

“It’s important considering it’s my first training camp and I’ll know a lot of the guys, which helps a ton. From an on-ice standpoint, I have that experience,” he said. “I’ve spent a ton of time addressing areas in need of improvement all in all I’m excited for training camp.”

But Hartman and others don’t see it as weight on their shoulders.

“I don’t think there’s pressure,” Hartman said. “When you look back you want to see improvements every year, you want to see yourself becoming a better hockey player. That’s something I want to do, I want to be able to look back and say I had a good career my first year but each year I got progressively better. That’s where my mindset is at.”

There’s more opportunity for the young players but Hayden says that’s true of everyone.

“I don’t really analyze opportunity. Regardless of the team, it’s going to be competitive,” he said. “Every summer you have to have a hard-working mindset and do what you can to show up in the fall in the best shape of your life.”

The Blackhawks’ young players have all set the bar at a certain level and will be expected to improve. It takes confidence to take that next step. Thanks to experience gained last season, they’re feeling good about taking it.