Monday, June 7, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
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.