Looking to respond from a subpar performance in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, Blackhawks power forward Dustin Byfuglien enjoyed his best performance of the series Sunday night. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound winger had 2 goals and 2 assists in a 7-4 win against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 at the United Center.
"You could see the fire in his eyes before the game," teammate Patrick Sharp
said. "Not much needed to be said to him. We knew he was going to come out and skate like he did and use his big frame. When he's playing like that he's tough to handle for anybody."
Byfuglien's power-play goal at 15:45 of the second period was his first tally of the series, as he finished off a brilliant passing display between Patrick Kane
, Duncan Keith
and Jonathan Toews
. The latter sent a feed across the crease to Byfuglien, who parked his huge frame in front of the net and poked the puck past Brian Boucher to give Chicago a 5-2 lead.
While some were expecting more from Byfuglien after the first four games, the power forward believed it was only a matter of time before pucks started going in for him.
"I don't know if I really got off my game," said Byfuglien, who had just 1 assist and was a minus-3 through the first four contests. "I just wasn't getting the bounces and the things that make me happy. I just knew I had to come in and work hard and do the best I can to help the team. That's the way I came in today.
"I was focused ... ready. I knew what I had to do. Just stuck to my game plan and never got away from it."
A large portion of Byfuglien's game plan included being better against hulking defenseman Chris Pronger, who was a minus-5 Sunday. Byfuglien handled Pronger beautifully in Game 5 and laid a thunderous check on him during the second period that sent Pronger flying to the ice.
"I think that's his best game of the series, obviously," defenseman Duncan Keith
said. "He has that ability to do that and we need him to do that. He's a big part of this team. When he's out there he can physically dominate games and it helps a lot. It gives us a lot of momentum when he's playing like that."
Pronger, though, wasn't about to praise his opponent.
"I guess he is well-rested," he snapped.
Byfuglien not only scored a pair of goals, but he helped set up a pair, as well. He crashed the net and set up a screen in front when Kris Versteeg's wrister from the slot found its way past starting goalie Michael Leighton with 1:45 remaining in the opening period. It came less than three minutes after Byfuglien assisted on Dave Bolland
's goal, which gave Chicago a 2-0 lead.
"Buff ... he's huge," Versteeg said. "When he's moving his feet, and he's playing hard, he's a tough guy to handle and a tough guy to play against. You could see tonight, he got rewarded for a lot of good efforts and that's what we need from the big man going forward in order to be successful."
Added Bolland: "With Buff, he's big, he uses his body well getting in the way of guys. When he's doing that, it gives us more space and you see with Steeger on his goal and all that, you see there's more space for a few of us out there."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was certainly pleased with Byfuglien's performance and was happy to see him bounce back in such tremendous fashion.
"I think Buff has been a big factor as we've gone along here in these playoffs," Quenneville said. "Maybe everybody said he was quiet. I still thought he had a presence early in the first two games here at home. Maybe the last couple didn't make as much noise.
"But I thought he was a factor like he's been probably in all the games in the last couple of rounds going into this round. I thought he made a big imprint in the outcome in the game tonight."
With the series shifting back to Philadelphia, it's imperative the Flyers contain Byfuglien the way they did through the first four games. They can't allow the former eighth-round pick (2003) to use his body as effectively as he did Sunday night.
"I think he played pretty well," Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "He was strong with the puck and skated better than he did in the previous games. The key with him is to take his time and space away. I think we gave him too much room."
It's one of the many reasons why the Blackhawks are a solid 60-minute effort away from possibly raising the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961. Byfuglien, who sealed the victory with an empty-net goal at 17:55 of the third, realizes now is not the time to begin partying.
"We haven't done anything yet," Byfuglien said. "It wasn't a big thing to celebrate. It wasn't a real big goal. But we won a game and we have to stay focused and get ready for another one." Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Staff Writer