-- When Dustin Byfuglien
was knocked to his stomach by a Chris Pronger
cross-check midway Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, it showed just how much more physical the Philadelphia Flyers
are than any team the Chicago Blackhawks
have faced during the playoffs.
No one had been able to knock down the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Byfuglien without a wrecking ball during the postseason. But that's just what the Flyers have been doing since the playoffs started. Their 567 hits lead the League, as does their average of 28.4 hits per game.
Philadelphia has outhit Chicago in all three games this series, but the Blackhawks insist all that added contact isn't a problem.
"They're pretty physical," said defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson
, who is wearing stitches over his left eye. "We like to play physical. We know that they are a physical team. It's a lot of fun to play against them."
Late in the second period, Flyers winger Ville Leino
collided with Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane
, who lost his helmet on the play. The sight of the free-flowing mullet was just another indicator that the Hawks are dealing with a more bruising style of play than usual.
"It's a hockey game. You're going to go and get big hits," Kane said. "I think I got hit big one time last game where my helmet fell off. Things like that happen. It's hockey. It's the Stanley Cup Final. You got to play intense. You've got to be ready to go."
The Blackhawks have been ready and aren't shrinking from the contact. While they've been outhit by the Flyers in all three games, the Blackhawks have thrown just 14 less hits in the series.
But the problem with combating the Flyers' style isn't absorbing the hits and continuing with the game; it's not taking retaliatory penalties after those big hits -- especially if they are borderline -- and putting yourself in the penalty box.
Byfuglien was penalized for slashing Pronger after he was knocked down in front of the net. Marian Hossa
took a slashing penalty in the first period against Arron Asham
, a physical player who has been known to get under the opposition's skin. At the end of the first period, a scrum broke out near the glass involving Pronger and Kane.
However, the Blackhawks won't say Pronger is getting under their skin with his style.
"We'll give him credit," captain Jonathan Toews
said of Pronger. "But it's always been about us and been about how we can play better. That doesn't change this series."
Nashville was a tough first-round opponent, but Vancouver and San Jose aren't known for playing a rough-and-tough style. The Blackhawks are taking a step up in class in that department against the Flyers, and Toews thinks his team will answer the bell in Friday's Game 4.
"I think we've brought our physical play up a notch," Toews said. "It's going to be a natural thing, doesn't matter who you playing. If you're playing for the Cup, it's going to be tough. It's going to be a battle. You saw that (in Game 3), that both teams more and more know what's on the line as we get closer.
"We know they're going to be even more physical as we go along. We're going to try to do the same."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter:@DLozoNHL