-- Dustin Byfuglien
continues to be huge for the Chicago Blackhawks
, both literally and metaphorically.
It was another playoff game and another game-winning goal on Sunday afternoon from Byfuglien. Except this time, it sent the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final.
The 6-foot-4, 257-pound mass of humanity that is Byfuglien broke a 2-2 tie with 5:55 remaining to lift the Blackhawks to a 4-2 win in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals and complete a sweep of the top-seeded San Jose Sharks
at the United Center.
The goal came two days after Byfuglien won Game 3 in overtime and was his third game-winner of the series. The 25-year-old has now scored four winners in his last eight games since moving back from defense up to the top line with Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Kane
in the early going of the Blackhawks' second-round series with the Vancouver Canucks
So can anyone pinpoint the exact moment when Byfuglien became the best power forward in the NHL?
"No," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp
, who laughed but didn't deny Byfuglien's ascension during this postseason. "I think it started in the Vancouver series. All those fans were getting on his case. He wasn't popular in that building. It seems like he likes the spotlight. He likes being the hero. He steps up big-time.
"He told me before the third period he was going to be the guy to go get it. True to his word, he got it."
Byfuglien's winner in Game 3 was a bit out of character for the big man. He took a great pass from Dave Bolland
and showed his soft hands by quickly flicking the puck into the top of the net before Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov
knew what was happening.
But in Game 4, he scored from just outside of the crease, a spot he's been calling home for so long in these playoffs that he might have to start paying property taxes on the area.
The Blackhawks were coming to the end of their power play but still applying pressure. Kane tried to feed Toews for a one-timer, but the Blackhawks' captain couldn't control the puck.
"I tried to pass to Toews, but he fumbled it," a joking Kane said.
Kane pounced on that fumble and slid the puck to Byfuglien, who slammed it past Nabokov with defenseman Marc-Edourard Vlasic hanging all over him to give the Blackhawks their first lead of Game 4.
What does Kane think the secret of Byfuglien's success has been?
"I think I'm setting him up pretty good, to be honest with you," said Kane with a laugh. "No, he's doing his job. It's fine with me as long as he's scoring. It's a big, big, big, big win today. Big Buff's been huge."
Byfuglien compared his winning goals in Games 3 and 4 and said it was hard to separate which one he liked more.
"It was definitely another big goal," Byfuglien said. "I don't know if it was as big as the last one, but I think it goes right up on top. I had some chills going down through the body."
What does Byfuglien prefer in terms of style -- the finesse goal to the top corner or the lunch-pail goal from right in front?
"If they both go in, I'll take them both," he said. "It doesn't really matter."
Amazingly, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
said he thinks Byfuglien would prefer to be a defenseman. That just makes his 8 goals and 2 assists in the nine games he's played since Quenneville moved him to forward all the more impressive.
"I think he certainly had a remarkable playoffs, particularly last two rounds when he got back to forward there," Quenneville said. "I think he would rather play defense, but right now today, he'll discount that and say no way.
"He creates so much space when he does get to the net. He's a hard body to move, has a decent set of hands. Physically, he can be overpowering sometimes."
There are few who can match Byfuglien's size and strength, but one of them is Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger
, who weighs in at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds. If Philadelphia can get one more win in the Eastern Conference Finals, there will be collisions near the Flyers crease that will make demolition derbies look like amusement park bumper cars.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL