Chicago Blackhawks power forward Dustin Byfuglien is clearly enjoying his dual role as hero to Hawks fans and villain to almost the entire Canadian West during this Western Conference Semifinal series against Vancouver. When asked whether his villain act will be as effective on home ice in Sunday's Game 5 (8 p.m., Versus, CBC, RDS), Byfuglien just smirked.
"I don't know," he said. "We'll have to see."
A lot of it will depend on the Canucks, who seem determined to make Byfuglien pay a physical price for his statuesque ability in front of goalie Roberto Luongo. Just as he did a year ago, Byfuglien is using his 6-foot-4, 257-pound body to give the Hawks a near-constant presence in front the Canucks net.
Once again, it has pushed the Canucks to the breaking point -- culminating in eight Vancouver penalties on Friday that led to four power-play goals and a 7-4 win for the Hawks, putting them up 3-1 in the series. After grinding out a hat trick in Game 3, Byfuglien was targeted in Game 4.
That only led indirectly to Jonathan Toews
netting a hat trick himself and the Hawks salivating with each silly penalty Vancouver took. Byfuglien, who is paired with Toews and Patrick Kane
on the Hawks' top line, was cross-checked twice in the first period by Shane O'Brien – one leading to a power-play goal -- and hit while he was on the ice by Alex Burrows.
"It's part of the game," Byfuglien said of Burrows' blows. "It's stupid on his part, but that's the way it goes. I knew it was going to be a physical game. I think everyone did. They just weren't smart about it."
Before the series, the Canucks vowed to get revenge against Chicago for doing the same exact thing to them a year ago. Instead, the Hawks are again on the verge of turning out Vancouver's lights. Many think the Canucks will scale back their physical assault on Sunday, but Byfuglien doesn't -- in fact, he welcomes the physical onslaught.
"I'm standing in front and they're not worried about where Kane and Toews are," Byfuglien said. "They're worried about where I am, (and) it gives those two more room to operate and score goals."
Toews said he doesn't care whether Vancouver changes its strategy in regard to Byfuglien or other Hawks pests like Adam Burish and Ben Eager. All he cares about is winning.
"It's just sticking to what has worked so far in the series," said Toews, who leads the League in playoff points with 18. "We're not worried about what they're trying to change about their game. They said they were going to (not take bad penalties) coming into (Friday) night's game. Whether they do or they don't (Sunday) night, we're still going to do what works for us."
They'll park the big guy in front of Luongo again. They'll keep swarming the Vancouver net looking for loose pucks. They'll also likely agitate the Canucks just to see if they'll take more silly penalties.
That can be a fine line to skate, but it's working so far. Why stop now?
"You can always initiate and you want to be the ones to be hard to play against," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "But you've got to be smart about what you have to do to keep yourself on the ice. We need to make sure we keep ourselves out of the box. We know what their power play can do."
Thanks to Game 4, the Canucks know what the Hawks can do, too.
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent