SAN JOSE, Calif.
-- With his unique size, Chicago winger Dustin Byfuglien has become a hot topic this postseason because of the crushing blows he can deliver in front of the net. Just ask the Vancouver Canucks and goalie Roberto Luongo for their testimonials.
Sunday afternoon, though, Byfuglien was causing trouble from roughly 30-feet away from the blue paint, and he was just as effective with a winning slap shot in the latter half of the third period at HP Pavilion.
Not only do the San Jose Sharks and goalie Evgeni Nabokov have to worry about Byfuglien's immovable size in front the crease, but his underrated, yet obviously efficient shot has to be a major concern as well.
Talk about the definition for a dangerous player, or, better yet, the recipe for a premier power forward in the NHL.
"Yeah, he's got a tremendous shot," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's heavy. Nice hands, good play recognition as well."
The Sharks insist they were fully aware of Byfuglien's shot before the series started. Coach Todd McLellan said he brought it up during team meetings when they were breaking down the assets of certain players. It reminds him of Dany Heatley's shot.
Heatley has hit the 50-goal plateau twice in his career, 40 two other times and had 39 goals apiece in the last two seasons. If you're Byfuglien, who has never gotten 20 goals in a season yet, that's some pretty good company to be in.
"Certainly one of the assets that we felt Dustin had was a quick release and a very good shot," McLellan said. "He's an extremely strong man, so he can shoot the puck. He can shoot the puck with people draped on him. His goal (Sunday), no one was around him, but he is strong enough to get it away."
Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray laughed when he was asked if Byfuglien's shot is underrated.
"Not to us," he cracked. "He's been effective with his shot since he got into this League. Even when he was playing very low minutes I think he was on the power play and he was a shooter then, not a net-front guy. For us, his shot is not underrated."
No matter where Byfuglien is shooting from these days, he's a big-time threat to score. He has five goals in the last five games, including his hat trick in Game 3 against the Canucks, a goal in Game 6 of that series and his winner Sunday.
"When you are on a roll you just keep rolling and Buff, his advantage is the physical play," said Hawks right wing Marian Hossa
, whose lack of offensive production is being masked by Byfuglien's hot streak. "He's so big and strong that he's dominating the game right now and we just feel right now anything he touches, it's golden."
Ironically, Byfuglien didn't have as many chances in front of Nabokov in Game 1 as he would have liked. The Sharks did a good job of lifting his stick and boxing him out, plus Nabokov didn't allow too many juicy rebounds in front of him, a la Luongo.
"With the new rules there is not much you can do," Murray said. "You have to be smart about it. You can't get into any wrestling matches. Net presence is going to happen and the goalies always play with it. We need to leave him alone and be good on his stick when the shot is taken, because within the rules you're not going to move anyone."
Especially Byfuglien, who stands 6-feet, 4-inches tall and thrives when he drives his 257-pound body into the blue paint at full speed.
It's like a freight train coming at a goalie, but it comes complete with a shot and stick skills that don't get talked about a lot -- in large part because Byfuglien doesn't seem all that comfortable talking about himself in front of big groups.
For instance, he joined Antti Niemi at the press conference podium after Game 1 and, well, let's just say it wasn't riveting theater listening to the Finnish goalie and the humble Minnesotan, who when asked to assess his play offered this:
"I feel like I'm at the top of my game right now. I think there are improvements to be made. You know, just got to keep working and just getting in front, you know, getting dirty."
In front of a small group of reporters inside the Blackhawks dressing room Monday at HP Pavilion, Byfuglien, obviously more comfortable and affable, did admit that all the attention he's getting fuels his confidence and is making him play better.
"It helps that people are going to be watching and it makes me feel better about myself," he said. "I think I'm reaching the level where I should be at and can be at. It's a big time now."
Byfuglien has also developed a kinship with Patrick Kane
and Jonathan Toews
. Coaches in this League always look to change up the lines when things get bumpy, but Quenneville would be wise to keep that one together even if Chicago experiences some turbulence.
It looks like it has some staying power with the burly Byfuglien on the left, the super-skilled, mullet-wearing Kane on the right and Mr. Everything in the middle.
"They say what to do and then we talk amongst each other," Byfuglien said. "I just tell them where I'm going to be and they know. For the most part those two can get themselves out of the corner and they'll find you when you're not even ready."
Right now the Hawks would all be wise to keep looking for Byfuglien, whether he's an inch or 30 feet away from the blue paint.
"He's one of those guys that I'm sure you don't like playing against because he's big, strong and powerful," Quenneville said. "And he does have a nice complement to his game besides his size."Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer