BLACKHAWKS at CANUCKS
(Chicago leads best-of-seven series, 2-1)
Big story: During the first two games of this series in Chicago, all the hype surrounding Dustin Byfuglien was just that. The forward-turned-defenseman, or vice versa, didn’t register a single point and had only three shots on goal. Once the scene shifted to Vancouver, however, Byfuglien stood front and center. His hat trick in Game 3 gave the Blackhawks their first lead in this Western Conference Semifinal, and they could depart British Columbia with the opportunity to close things out at home if they win Friday.
Blackhawks: After playing Game 2 on the blue line, Byfuglien was moved back to right wing on Wednesday and made Chicago coach Joel Quenneville look like a genius. He banged home a couple of power-play goals off rebounds, then completed his first career three-goal game in the playoffs in the third period of the Blackhawks' 5-2 victory. There aren't a lot of NHL players who could hold their own as a defenseman one night and then steal the show while riding shotgun on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but Byfuglien proved why he was receiving so much attention before the series even began.
"He's 'Big Buff.' He's doing what he's got to do out there," said Toews, who assisted on all three of Byfuglien's goals. "He's crashing whether he's playing forward or on the blue line. He's doing some good things out there. I think in the last couple games especially, on the power play, he's been a good presence in front of the net."
Canucks: It appeared following Game 1 that Vancouver might have a decided advantage in goal, as veteran Roberto Luongo was a virtually impenetrable wall for the Canucks and his counterpart, rookie Antti Niemi, was pulled after two periods. Luongo was solid again in Game 2, but the Blackhawks solved him for a pair of goals in a third-period rally and then scored five times on a barrage of 35 shots on Wednesday. While the Canucks must do more to solve Niemi, they may very well need Luongo to steal a game if they are to get back in this series.
"Momentum is overrated," Luongo said. "Everybody said we have the momentum after Game 1; now everybody is saying they have momentum, so it doesn't really matter. Last series we were down in L.A., same thing, 2-1, so it’s one game at a time."
Who's hot: In addition to Byfuglien, the Blackhawks got a goal from Kris Versteeg for the second straight game and Marian Hossa had a goal and an assist in Game 3. Niemi has stopped 55 of 59 shots (.932 save percentage) since getting lifted from the opener.
Defensemen Alex Edler and Sami Salo each recorded a pair of assists for the Canucks in Wednesday's defeat.
Injury report: Banged-up defensemen include Chicago's Kim Johnsson (concussion) and Vancouver's Aaron Rome (lower body), Willie Mitchell (concussion) and Nolan Baumgartner (knee).
Stat pack: The Blackhawks have outscored the Canucks 8-2 since entering the third period of Game 2 trailing by a 2-1 score. … Niemi made more than half of his 31 saves in Game 3 during the first period, stopping all 16 shots he faced.
Puck drop: Frustration started to set in for Vancouver late in Game 3, as Alexandre Burrows and Shane O'Brien accounted for more than half of the team's 34 total penalty minutes with a pair of misconducts with 3:12 remaining. Part of the Canucks' strategy Friday is to make sure cooler heads prevail.
"Yeah, it got a bit away from us last night, a bit more than the first couple games," Luongo said Thursday. "Maybe it did catch up to us a little bit. We have to realize what we're playing for, and that's to win the game and win the series. We all know that lots of times we're involved in situations, and we're on the wrong side of it. That's why you want to stay out of it."