Blackhawks turn aside Canucks in Game 3
Byfuglien notches 1st NHL playoff hat trick to give Chicago series lead
Chicago got the Vancouver Canucks off their game, Dustin Byfuglien has his back and Roberto Luongo will spend the next two days looking for his.
The Blackhawks rode a hat-trick performance from their six-foot-four, 257-pound right-winger and 31 saves from Antti Niemi to a 5-2 victory Wednesday night in Vancouver.
It was the first three-goal playoff game for Byfuglien, who dominated with his physical play to give his team a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven NHL Western Conference semifinal.
"[Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick Kane], they do their job on the walls and in the corners and all you gotta do is stand in front [of the net]," Byfuglien said of his linemates in an interview with Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada after the game.
Johnson back in lineup
Vancouver Canucks centre Ryan Johnson returned to action Wednesday after missing 11 games with a broken right foot.
Johnson, who suffered the injury blocking a shot by Minnesota Wild defenceman Marek Zidlicky on April 4, was minus-1 and delivered three hits in seven minutes 15 seconds of ice time.
It was thought the shot-blocking specialist — Johnson topped the Canucks with 85 in the regular season — would aid an improving penalty kill.
But the Chicago Blackhawks went 2-for-6 on the power play en route to a 5-2 win in Game 3 of the NHL Western Conference semifinal.
"I feel good. Speed is my game so it's not something I'm going to have to catch up to," Johnson, who played 2:29 on the penalty kill, told Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada between periods Wednesday.
Byfuglien, who was successful at getting in the face of goalie Luongo in last year's playoffs, added it remains the game plan and something Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville has told him to do.
"I've just been working hard and sooner or later [the pucks] are going to go in for me," said Byfuglien, who was goalless in his previous eight post-season starts this spring.
Crease-crashing a hot topic
Talk of crease-crashing was a hot topic prior to this year's series, but Byfuglien hasn't changed the way he approaches the game, saying: "I know where I'm supposed to be and where I can't go [in the crease]. If I get hit in there it's the ref's call. We just have to keep working hard and keep having fun."
Byfuglien also looked more energetic after struggling against the speedy Canucks in the first two games of the series at Chicago's United Center.
Luongo had the tough night Wednesday, spitting out rebounds on four of the five goals, and told reporters the best way to answer a crowd of Blackhawks in his crease is to do the same to Niemi.
"That's the way they play … there's nothing we can do about it," said Luongo, who stopped 30 of 35 shots.
On his first goal, Byfuglien had two whacks off a Duncan Keith rebound and back-handed the puck past Luongo for a power-play goal at 16:47 of the first period with Ryan Kesler serving a tripping minor.
In the second, Byfuglien battled Canucks defenceman Alex Edler in front of the Vancouver net, opening room for Toews to drive the net. Byfuglien jumped on the rebound to make it 3-1 with another power-play marker.
Canucks' power play hurting
Chicago finished 2-for-6 with the man-advantage after going a combined 1-for-8 in Games 1 and 2. Vancouver failed to convert four chances and is 2-for-14 in the series.
With the Blackhawks up 4-2, Byfuglien drove the net and had the puck hit his stick and skate before it deflected off Edler's skate and into the net. The Canucks argued for goaltender interference, but the goal stood.
HNIC analyst Mike Milbury praised Byfuglien's effort and said he should have been named the game's first, second and third star.
"He skates much better than people give him credit for," said Milbury of Byfuglien, who had six shots, six hits and four penalty minutes in 15 minutes 53 seconds of ice time.
"I loved him being out there [in the last five minutes]. I thought Joel Quenneville did a great job putting him out there. They [Blackhawks] made a statement. This guy's engaged in the game … he's here to stay. If you want a piece of him … come and get him. Nobody went and got him."
Byfuglien 'beat them down'
Former NHL tough guy P.J. Stock said the Canucks wanted no part of Byfuglien in Game 3 and believes the constant talk of the big Blackhawk crashing the net weighed on the Canucks.
"They're lacking a little bit of mobility [on defence] as it is and once they start becoming fixated on [Byfuglien] —the pre-game interviews are about him, the in-between periods are about Byfuglien — he's so big and so strong, I think he beat them down," said Stock, an analyst with HNIC.
"You might think less of the puck and you want to try and hit him, but you can't hurt him. He's 250 pounds."
Also scoring for the Blackhawks was Kris Versteeg and Marian Hossa, who collected his first goal of the series and added an assist, while Toews had three assists and Kane a pair.
Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows had the Canucks goals, with Sami Salo and Edler picking up two assists each.
The Canucks controlled much of the game but found themselves playing catchup after the Blackhawks climbed into a 2-0, first-period lead.
Vancouver's Daniel Sedin was frustrated over the chances the Canucks missed. "We had a ton of chances in the first," he said of the 16-shot frame. "They get the lead and it's a tough team to play."
Niemi made some big saves early — dragging a pad on a Hansen shot on a breakaway, getting his blocker on a Burrows blast, denying Daniel Sedin on twice in close and later Steve Bernier during a goalmouth scramble.
Game 4 is Friday at General Motors Place in Vancouver (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 9:30 p.m. ET).
With files from The Canadian Press