Of the many exchanges John and I had during our taking in of Monday’s Game 2 at the United Center, one now stands out more than the others. It came just after Adam Burish and Ben Eager took a tag-team approach to “snowing” Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
After Shane O’Brien and Friends gently ushered Burish and Eager from the crease area following the goalie blizzard, I turned and looked at John in disbelief. My look must’ve said, “This isn’t the same Canucks the Hawks played last year. What the heck is going on? Just 12 months ago, O’Brien would have put his stick where the sun don’t shine.”
Without more, John said, “That’s not good.”
Well, consider that ship sailed.
And, for that, you can credit none other than Dustin Byfuglien, whose three goals may not have necessarily been the highlight of his night. Byfuglien was an absolute monster on Wednesday night in Vancouver, and from my seat, handed in the single best performance of any Hawk during any game this season. Perhaps even more important, Big Buff seems to have single handedly turned the tide of the series, most notably ratcheting up the lacking physicality and intensity, and knocking the Canucks off their “A” game in the process.
What Buff did Wednesday night was nothing short of fantastic. Buff, generally a very mild mannered fellow, went from Dr. Banner to the Incredible Hulk yesterday evening, punishing Canuck defensemen, moving the puck at will, and potting three of the game’s eight goals. It was a legendary performance that, if all goes well during the next few weeks, people will one day refer to as “the Byfuglien game.” He was that damn good.
The night didn’t start off that well, though. The Canucks came out of the gate hard, keeping the puck in the Hawk zone for much of the first frame and getting major pressure on goalie Antti Niemi. Niemi stood strong, though, and a funny thing happened along the way. Even after surrendering 16 shots, including numerous scoring chances, the Hawks took a 2-0 lead into the second period – a lead they had no business holding, save for Niemi’s performance.
One important sequence saw similar plays unfold in dissimilar ways for the two teams. Already up 1-0, a Ryan Kesler tripping penalty put the Hawks up a man. Jonathan Toews won the opening face-off to Duncan Keith, who quickly let a blast go. Though the puck seemed to hit a set and square Luongo, it bounced straight out into the slot, where Buff was waiting. Buff smacked home the rebound and put the Hawks up two.
Then, less than a minute later, Buff was called for interference. The Canucks won the ensuing face-off in the Hawks zone back to the inside defenseman, who let fly a shot not unlike Keith’s. Niemi swallowed it up.
Though the Canucks were able to cut the lead to one on two separate occasions, including during the last minute of the second period, they were never able to tie it.
About eight minutes into the third, Patrick Sharp flung a shot on net from the top of the circle. Hossa, racing out of the near corner, corralled the rebound, circled Luongo in front, and potted it to give the Hawks their third two-goal lead of the evening. About six minutes later Alexander Edler – who has played very well for the Hawks this series – kicked a puck past Luongo on the doorstep to seal the deal. The goal was ultimately credited to the man crashing the crease on the play: Byfuglien.
Yo, Listen Up!
– Five Hawk goals last night; with all five coming on second chances. When the Hawks talked about crashing Luongo and making life difficult for perhaps the league’s top goalie, they weren’t kidding.
– Everyone played well last night. Even Jordan Hendry turned in a couple important shifts midway through the third. Marian Hossa is starting to take shifts over; Toews was strong on the puck; Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith kept the Sedins off the scoresheet; and Niemi outbattled Luongo.
– Credit Dave Bolland for adjusting his game in the last week. Bolland, who has been incredibly underwhelming after signing a sizeable offseason deal, has stepped up his physical and defensive games this series.
– Someone please tell me why Byfuglien was on the ice during the game’s last 30 seconds. Aren’t we just asking for problems at that point? Luckily, the referees and linesmen were wise to the scene and settled everything down before it got out of hand.
– Is Alex Burrows the least likeable NHL player? I think so. Burrows’ stupid penalty during the second period last night – his behind-the-play roughing of Brian Campbell – led to a power play goal that gave the Hawks their 3-1 lead. I bet it was the referee’s fault.
– In a game that got incredibly physical, ‘Nucks strongman Rick Rypien was intimately involved getting … Hold on, what’s that? Oh, Rypien played less than four minutes. Sorry.
– It’s amazing to me the line combinations that are working for the Hawks this late in the season. After fiddling all season with the right match-ups and establishing certain truths to be self-evident – like Byfuglien and Kopecky not being top-six forwards – here the Hawks are in the playoffs having success with players in roles they weren’t fit for a month ago. Odd, but fine by me.
– Is Byfuglien this generation’s Claude Lemieux. Yes, I think so.
– I could go on for hours, but I won’t. What a game.