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Byfuglien remains center of attention as Game 1 nears

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO -- On Friday, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said he was more concerned about the Blackhawks' star forwards than he was about mammoth winger Dustin Byfuglien.
"I'm more worried about (Jonathan) Toews and (Patrick) Kane than that guy," he said.
After the Canucks' morning skate on Saturday, Vigneault sounded more concerned about Byfuglien just hours before Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Hawks and Canucks at the United Center (8 p.m., CBC, Versus).
In last season's semifinals, Byfuglien camped in front of Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo and appeared to rattle him and the Canucks.
"In my mind there's no surprises coming in (this year), whereas last year maybe we got caught off-guard a little bit," Vigneault said. "(An) example … Byfuglien crashing the crease and you know, he was basically an unknown and he got away with murder. I think right now we're aware of it, the League's aware of that illegal net presence and we expect everybody to do a good job."
The 6-foot-4, 257-pound Byfuglien was shifted from forward back to defense in March to compensate for defenseman Brian Campbell being lost to a broken collarbone. Campbell returned to the ice for the last three games of the quarterfinals against Nashville, but Byfuglien remained on the blue line.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville then moved him back to forward in the first practice for Vancouver this past week. Ever since, the burly Hawks forward has been the center of attention in both rooms.
The Canucks are especially tired of talking about him. They even seem poised for Byfuglien to start something in Saturday's game, like he did by running over Luongo in a regular-season game last season that touched off a large brawl and instantly pumped bad blood into the matchup.
"If he does something dirty or over the line, then my job is to protect (Luongo)," Canucks defenseman Shane O'Brien said.
As for defending Byfuglien when at the net, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound O'Brien said the size differential makes it tough. He gives up almost 30 pounds to Byfuglien in that matchup.
"If he gets body position on you, you may as well not even try to move him," O'Brien said. "He's just so big. You just have to get his stick and make sure he doesn't get any second chances. If you can get his stick … it usually works out OK."
Meanwhile, the Hawks have been asked countless times about Vancouver's top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and fellow Swedish forward Mikael Samuelsson, who led the Canucks with seven goals in the quarterfinals.
Quenneville said it will be his entire team's responsibility to defend that line, not just one checking line or the top defensive pair of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. Kane had another thought.
"Sometimes when you're playing against a line like that, the best defense is a good offense and keeping the puck in their end," he said. "Sometimes that's why we've played against other top lines throughout the year, just to play offense in their end. We've been successful a lot of times just keeping the puck away from their top guys."
Expecting the worst -- Kane played on the same line as Canucks forward Ryan Kesler in the Olympics and the two became friends after not knowing each other beforehand.
"I didn't like him too much before I met him," Kane said. "But that's just the way he plays. He was getting under the skin of guys at the Olympics, too, and you're kind of thinking, ‘OK, that was me a couple of weeks ago or a month ago.' He's good at what he does."
Their friendship will undoubtedly get put on ice once the puck is dropped tonight.
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