by Peter Christian
Chicago Blackhawks fans can breathe a tiny bit easier. Well, they can breathe like they just put on a Breathe Right strip. It’s not like they can actually breathe easier but since they’re wearing that goofy little band-aid, they at least think they’re breathing easier. The game 3 5-2 win in Vancouver was vital for both teams as the series was tied heading in, but the stakes were a little bit higher for the ‘Hawks. Chicago already had lost their home ice advantage after an ugly 5-1 game 1 loss in Chicago and the thought of going down 2-1 in the series with another game in Vancouver to back it up was not a pleasant one. The ultimate goal for Joel Quenneville’s squad heading into Vancouver was a split, but taking game 3 made things a whole lot easier for the team moving forward in the series. However it was the manner in how they took control of game 3 and eventually won it that will make the rest of the series smoother for the Blackhawks.
Dustin Byfuglien is a big guy to begin with. Once you put shoulder pads on him, have him pull on his breezers (or hockey pants, to some) and add a few inches with skates, Buff is a monster. He played like a monster in Game 3. His stat line is impressive enough, but that doesn’t even do the game he played justice. 3 goals, 5 shots, 4 penalty minutes and 6 hits are numbers of a great hockey game, let alone a playoff hockey game. The Blackhawks effectively used Byfuglien as a brick wall, wrecking ball and most importantly, as the Versus commentator called him, “a blunt object.” The term describes the 6’3″, 250 lb multi-dimensional player perfectly and was a great description of what he was to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3. Beyond his 2 power play goals and his even strength goal (which was originally credited to Kris Versteeg) he wore down the Canucks with his brute strength and physical play and really slammed home the fact that the Canucks have no answer for Byfuglien’s presence on the ice.
On top of that, it appeared the Blackhawks were successfully able to do some damage to Roberto Luongo’s historically fragile ego. Both of Byfuglien’s goals came as a result of rebounds allowed by Luongo (and Buff’s ability to clear space and get his stick on the puck in traffic) and if that becomes a pattern, this could be a short series.
Now the pressure is on for the Canucks as they need to win game 4 to avoid playing an elimination game in Chicago on Sunday. Meanwhile, it’s the job of the Blackhawks to step up and play loose and physical in game 4 to try and draw some of the less “classy” Canucks players to commit some dumb penalties and force them to play shorthanded, and hopefully, from behind.
Defensively, the Blackhawks have done a superb job in limiting the Vancouver playmakers from going off as they did against Los Angeles in the first round. Between the defensemen clearing pucks in front of Antti Niemi and the forwards on the back check, Chicago has limited Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Mikael Samuelsson to 4 points (2 goals) after that trio combined for 29 points (12 goals) in the first series. Limiting the Sedin Twins and Samuelsson is an obvious goal of any Vancouver opponent but through 3 games, the Blackhawks are succeeding and it’s a major reason they are up 2-1 in the series.