Apparently this is Dustin Byfuglien’s world and we’re all just living in it.
The Chicago Blackhawks celebrated Cinco De Mayo north of the border by dropping a five-spot on Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks, taking home-ice advantage back and the series lead with a strong 5-2 victory.
Byfuglien had the first road hat trick for a Blackhawks player since Denis Savard in St. Louis in 1988. It isn’t every day (ever?) that Byfuglien and Savard are mentioned in the same sentence, but the Hawks power forward earned the distinction on Wednesday night with a dominating performance.
The Blackhawks started the game with their usual raised eyebrows, taking a penalty for too many men on the ice less than two minutes into the game. But the Hawks would kill the penalty, as they have done so well throughout the season and playoffs, and attacked immediately. Game Two’s hero, Kris Versteeg, jumped onto the score sheet again at 5:19 with the first theme of the night: a soft rebound from Roberto Luongo.
The second theme of the night is something Vancouver fans saw too much of against the Kings in the first round: power play goals. Byfuglien’s first goal, at 16:47, was on the power play. The Canucks allowed 11 power play goals in round one, and struggled again in Game Three.
Luongo was rattled late in Game Two as the Hawks stormed back to win a crucial split at home. He was broken on Wednesday night. Byfuglien clearly had established residency in between his ears, and didn’t go away the entire night. The Hawks had effective traffic in front of Luongo all night and capitalized on rebound opportunities. All three of Byfuglien’s goals were in the paint, as was Versteeg’s early tally. Even Marian Hossa’s goal in the third period was in close.
The Hawks defense was solid the entire night, led by Niemi. They killed all four of Vancouver’s power play opportunities, blocked 16 shots, and, most importantly, kept their cool; the Canucks were credited with 40 hits and 36 penalty minutes on Wednesday night.
Penalties from Wednesday night could play an intriguing role in Friday night’s make-or-break Game Four for the Canucks. With 3:12 remaining, a get-together in front of the Blackhawks bench resulted in Dave Bolland and Vancouver’s Shane O’Brien and Alex Burrows all receiving 10-minute misconduct penalties. After the clock had expired, Kevin Bieksa was also hit with a minor penalty for roughing Byfuglien. All four of these penalties will be subject to review with the league, and all four players could miss Friday night’s game.
The potential losses of O’Brien, Burrows and Bieksa could present a devastating shock to the Canucks roster. The Blackhawks could replace Bolland, a third-line center who won just seven of 18 faceoffs on Wednesday night, much more easily than Vancouver could replace three key players.
As demoralizing as Vancouver’s Game One victory was for Chicago fans, Game Three could prove to be the turning point in the Blackhawks postseason. Since the Canucks scored two goals in the first five minutes of Game Two, the sleeping giant in Chicago appears to have awakened; the Hawks have outscored the Canucks 9-2 in the last 115 minutes of play.