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Grueling battle for Byfuglien ends in celebration

by Mike G. Morreale
PHILADELPHIA  -- Dustin Byfuglien felt he had played enough hockey already.
Not that he wouldn't have suited up for a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final, but 104 games is plenty.
"I definitely told myself I didn't want to put on the equipment anymore after (Wednesday)," a jubilant Byfuglien told on the ice at the Wachovia Center after his team had just scored a Cup-clinching 4-3 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Now, I don't -- so it's great."
Indeed. Byfuglien can now make plans for the big Stanley Cup celebration blowing into Chicago on Friday before eventually taking his turn with the Holy Grail in his hometown of Roseau, Minn.
"Oh yeah, I'll be bringing that thing to Minnesota and it's coming right into the lake with me," he said with a starry-eyed grin.
Of course, that smile wasn't so evident following the opening four games of this series when Byfuglien had just one assist with a minus-3 rating on a line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. But, then again, any forward could struggle against Chris Pronger, one of the League's premier defensemen.
But "Big Buff" stuck with it and never wavered in his role as the club's prolific power forward.
"I knew how good that guy was right from the get go and I knew it wasn't going to be an easy battle but if I kept working, that I'd be able to get the best of him … well, maybe not get the best of him, but give myself a better situation going into later games," he said.
Byfuglien tied a career-high in Game 5 with the first four-point game (2 goals, 2 assists) of his postseason career. But more than that, he remained a physical presence throughout, dishing out nine hits, including two on Pronger.
"He was awesome," said Kane, who scored the OT Cup-winner in Game 6. "He's really good. As far as in the playoffs, he's probably our biggest force on the ice whenever he was out there. He was moved from defense to forward, he's kind of mixed up in the regular season and he found a real nest with myself and Johnny on our line as far as in the last two series. And then this series, you mix things up. He was pretty good on the power play and got a couple of big goals."
Byfuglien's first goal of the night on Sunday, 15:45 into the second period, became his League-leading fifth game-winner of the playoffs. He put his team on the board first on Wednesday, too, while nemesis Pronger was in the box for high-sticking -- his second minor penalty of the period.
The big guy swatted home his 11th of the playoffs off a rebound in the slot. Jonathan Toews controlled a feed from Kane and fired a shot that Leighton turned away before Byfuglien connected 20 seconds into Pronger's infraction.
The 25-year-old Byfuglien tied for the team lead with 11 goals in the postseason and led all players with 99 hits, 22 more than second-place Brent Seabrook (77 hits) in 22 games. He had 3 goals, 5 points and a plus-2 rating in the final two games of the Cup Final, stepping up when the team needed him most alongside new linemates Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg.
"We stuck with it," Byfuglien said. "We lost two here earlier in the series and we knew it wasn't going to be easy coming in here. But coming off Game 5 in Chicago, we had a little momentum and we got going right off the hop. We got the lead right away and even though they tied it up, we stuck with the game plan."
When Kane scored the Cup clincher 4:06 into overtime, Byfuglien was speechless.
"It was unreal," he said. "It's hard to say. It's a great feeling and one I'll never forget it. It's hard to put into words."
Then again, Byfuglien never was one to mince words. He did all his talking on the ice.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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