VANCOUVER -- A big game from Dustin Byfuglien and a rare fast start carried the Chicago Blackhawks to a 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night in Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinal series.
The Blackhawks hold a 2-1 series lead thanks mostly to Byfuglien's first career playoff hat trick and a two-goal first period that gave Chicago a lead it never relinquished. It was a start in stark contrast to the first two games of the series, where the Blackhawks fell behind 2-0 and were forced to play catch-up.
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"It's good to have a good start," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who had assists on all three of Byfuglien's goals. "We kept that effort going through three periods. It was our best effort and most complete effort of the series."
Byfuglien's night will grab all the attention, but he might not have had the chance to star if not for goaltender Antti Niemi, who made 31 saves and was especially sharp in the first period when he stopped all 16 shots fired his way.
His biggest saves of the first period came against Daniel Sedin, who was stopped twice from point-blank range.
"He was great. He had some key saves," Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. "They came at us pretty good there in the first. A couple of our changes were suspect, couple turnovers. If we keep that out of our game, we won't have to give up all those chances that Antti stopped."
Kris Versteeg gave the Blackhawks their first 1-0 lead of the series when he stashed home a rebound off a net-mouth scramble 5:09 into the game. Niemi held the fort until Byfuglien scored his first of the game with 3:13 left in the period and sent the Blackhawks to the intermission with the two-goal cushion.
Jannik Hansen's first career playoff goal 9:07 into the second period cut the lead in half, but Byfuglien's second of the game 2:17 later extended the lead back to two goals. It came on a power play set up by a bad penalty taken by Alex Burrows, who got in the face of Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell after a whistle, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the process.
"I didn't think I did that much, to be the only one," Burrows said of being the only one to get a penalty out of that confrontation. "But at the same time, there's a fine line, and you've got to be smart."
Game 3 was a far cry from the first two games of the series, where the Canucks resisted the urge to retaliate when the Blackhawks tried baiting them into penalties. Not only did Burrows finish with 14 minutes penalties and wind up getting ejected late in the third period, Daniel Sedin found himself in the penalty box when he and Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland took matching roughing penalties as the Canucks were starting a power play.
"He just put his stick between my legs," Bolland said. "We had words back and back and got into a little scrum. It's just part of the game. It's how it happens, right?"
For all the harm Burrows caused with his penalty, he did his best to make up for it by scoring with 54 seconds remaining in the second period to cut the lead to 3-2. It was Burrows' first non-empty-net goal since March 30, a span of 14 games.
But that would be as close as the Canucks would get. Hossa extended the lead to 4-2 by scoring off another rebound left by Luongo -- this one on a shot by Patrick Sharp. Byfuglien completed his hat trick with 6:02 remaining when a pass from Patrick Kane kicked off the skates of Byfuglien and Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler and past Luongo, who wound up in the net along with the puck.
It was a big performance from Byfuglien, who was back at forward with Kane and Toews after coach Joel Quenneville had him playing defense in Game 2.
"He had a big impact on the game," Quenneville said. "He was quite physical. He had a presence around the net and finished. Certainly he was a big factor." It was a nightmare of a game for Luongo, who stopped just 30 of 35 shots and allowed all five of his goals off rebounds. He gave credit to the Blackhawks for forcing him to make saves that led to juicy second chances from around the net.
“When there's traffic, you know, and there are shots, sometimes it's tough to control the rebounds," Luongo said. "Duncan Keith has a slapper from the top of the circle, I don't know how you can control a rebound like that. It squirted out, I tried to cover it, and obviously there were some sticks there whacking at it."
With Game 4 set for Friday night at GM Place, the Canucks have a lot of work to do to rectify the problems with penalties and the net presence of Byfuglien. For the Blackhawks, they're just looking to build on their best performance of this series.
"We don't want to settle in any time," Toews said. "We want to keep pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and keep getting better."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL
Shift of the game: Dustin Byfuglien used his big body to score his second power-play goal from right in front of the Canucks' net at 11:24 of the second period. Byfuglien parked himself in front of goaltender Roberto Luongo and neither Kevin Bieksa nor Alexander Edler could move him. Eventually a rebound wound up loose in front of the net -- and Byfuglien lifted it over a fallen Luongo to put the Blackhawks ahead 3-1.
|Kris Versteeg (2) ASST: Marian Hossa (7), Andrew Ladd (1)|
1 - 0 CHI
|PPG - Dustin Byfuglien (1) ASST: Duncan Keith (3), Jonathan Toews (9)|
2 - 0 CHI
|Jannik Hansen (1) ASST: Alexander Edler (3), Sami Salo (4)|
2 - 1 CHI
|PPG - Dustin Byfuglien (2) ASST: Jonathan Toews (10), Patrick Kane (4)|
3 - 1 CHI
|Alexandre Burrows (2) ASST: Alexander Edler (4), Sami Salo (5)|
3 - 2 CHI
|Marian Hossa (2) ASST: Patrick Sharp (5), Tomas Kopecky (1)|
4 - 2 CHI
|Dustin Byfuglien (3) ASST: Patrick Kane (5), Jonathan Toews (11)|
5 - 2 CHI
|Tomas Kopecky Too many men/ice - bench|
|Pavol Demitra Hooking against Marian Hossa|
|Patrick Sharp Tripping against Kyle Wellwood|
|Ryan Kesler Tripping against Patrick Sharp|
|Dustin Byfuglien Interference against Pavol Demitra|
|Dave Bolland Roughing against Daniel Sedin|
|Daniel Sedin Roughing against Dave Bolland|
|Kyle Wellwood Too many men/ice - bench|
|Alexandre Burrows Unsportsmanlike conduct against Brian Campbell|
|Shane O'Brien Holding against Patrick Sharp|
|Dustin Byfuglien Roughing against Shane O'Brien|
|Alexandre Burrows Roughing against Dave Bolland|
|Alexandre Burrows Misconduct (10 min) against Dave Bolland|
|Shane O'Brien Misconduct (10 min) against Marian Hossa|
|Dave Bolland Misconduct (10 min) against Alexandre Burrows|
|Kevin Bieksa Roughing against Dustin Byfuglien|