He was a big part of the story before the Blackhawks-Canucks series even started. Now, Dustin Byfuglien is THE story. And if he plays even half as good as he did in Game 3, the Blackhawks will be heading back to Chicago up 3-1.
Byfuglien recorded a hat trick Wednesday night, becoming an unlikely hero on the score sheet and helping lift the ‘Hawks to a 5-2 victory and the series lead. His presence in front of the net was expected — and required — for the ‘Hawks to win this series. His hat trick wasn’t. That’s what makes Byfuglien’s performance in Game 3 such a welcome surprise. And it showed in Vancouver’s response.
The Canucks were completely taken out of their game while the ‘Hawks enforced theirs. Alex Burrows became completely useless and took an idiotic roughing penalty trying to start a fight with Brian Campbell, who simply backed off and let Burrows be a dipshit. That penalty led to one of Byfuglien’s goals. Then, Burrows leveled Dave Bolland with cheap rabbit punches as Bolland was bent over the bench during a scrum.
Shane O’Brien officially became the biggest asshole in the world by throwing his stick into the face of the Blackhawks on multiple occasions after the whistle. Even Henrik and Daniel Sedin, both of whom always seem completely composed on the ice, got caught up in the jabbering and extracurricular activities.
Everything went the Blackhawks’ way in Game 3, right down to the mental side of the game. The ‘Hawks knew what they were doing and got into the heads of the Canucks, plain and simple. If Vancouver can’t stay composed, stay out of the box or win the board battles in its zone, Game 4 could be a re-run of Game 3.
Most importantly, the Blackhawks shook up Roberto Luongo, who was a rebound machine Wednesday. All five ‘Hawks goals were the result of put-backs after Luongo fumbled the initial shot. Though Luongo is notorious for a terrible performance in each series, I don’t believe Game 3 was The Luongo Meltdown Game. Luongo’s poor outings result in him not seeing the puck well on the initial shot and allowing sketchy goals. Rebounds or not, the Blackhawks earned each and every tally with hard work on the boards and in front of the net. Luongo is still due for his meltdown. Here’s to hoping it comes in Game 4.
On the Blackhawks side, Antti Niemi withstood the initial Vancouver rush in Game 3 — a welcome site after the first two games. No matter the fact the ‘Hawks struggled with Nashville and proceeded to shit the bed in Game 1 against the Canucks, Niemi has been one of the most solid Blackhawks in the playoffs. He came in with the pressure of being the chink in the Blackhawks’ armor, and he’s responded by positioning the ‘Hawks to take control of this series with another victory tonight. Game 2′s frantic finish and Byfuglien’s performance in Game 3 have taken away from the credit Niemi deserves in this series.
But no matter how important the victory in Game 3, the ‘Hawks absolutely cannot let off the gas. The ‘Hawks finally seem to be rounding into form after the Game 2 comeback and Game 3 bitch-slap. Wednesday night, it took an unlikely hero to catapult the ‘Hawks to a dominant performance. Tonight, I’m predicting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane light up the score sheet and take advantage of the weak Vancouver defensive corpse in helping the ‘Hawks take a dominant lead in this series.
It’s time to keep the proverbial foot on the gas and flatten the Canucks.
Puck drop is 8:30 p.m. CST from GM Place in Vancouver. Let’s get nasty.