The Vancouver Canucks have yet to find a way to stop Dustin Byfuglien.
The burly Blackhawks winger recorded only one assist as Chicago beat the Canucks 7-4 on Friday night to move within a game of qualifying for the Western Conference final series for the second straight year. But he still played a major role in the victory.
The 257-pound winger helped linemate Jonathan Toews produce a hat-trick and two assists and he drew two early penalties, which got the Blackhawks' lethal power play to get rolling as they converted four of eight chances.
"I thought Buff withstood a lot of physicality at the net," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. "But he certainly created a lot of disturbance ... I thought he was very effective, not just by being around the net, but he had some speed around the walls as well."
His early work along the boards led to Chicago's opening goal just 18 seconds into the game, helping to silence a sellout crowd of 18,810 that anthem singer Mark Donnelly had whipped into a frenzy.
Shortly after the opening face-off, Byfuglien picked up the puck behind the Vancouver net and carried it up along the wall. He dished off the disc as Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa gave chase, hit him high and rubbed him into the woodwork. The move created more open ice for Toews as he took the pass and fed defenceman Brent Seabrook, who moved into the vacant slot and put a shot through Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo's legs.
Before the first period was over, Byfuglien also absorbed some cross-checks from Shane O'Brien, which earned the Canuck rearguard a pair of penalties. Just eight seconds after O'Brien's second infraction, with Byfuglien setting a screen in front of Luongo, Toews scored his first goal to put Chicago ahead 2-1.
But Byfuglien wound up keeping O'Brien, a fairly decent defender in spite of his admittedly "short fuse," off the ice much longer. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault benched O'Brien for most of the rest of the game, eliminating one of the few Canucks who has the girth to move Byfuglien from in front of the net.
Again, nobody on the Canucks could budge Byfuglien as he helped Patrick Sharp score on a power play at 12:47 of the second period. As Luongo tried to plop his catching glove on a loose puck after stopping a Patrick Kane shot, Byfuglien anchored himself in front and no Canuck could move him.
As they tried to steer him away, the puck pin-balled off skates to Sharp at the side of the net and he easily beat a kneeling Luongo.
Now, the Blackhawks appear unlikely to let go of their stranglehold on the sequel to a series they ended in six games in the 2009 playoffs. During the regular season, the Canucks rarely lost two straight games at home.
But, with Byfuglien's help, the Blackhawks romped to unexpectedly one-sided victories in Game 3, when he recorded a hat-trick of his own, and Friday's fourth game.
"It was great," said Byfuglien. "It's a lot of fun to come in and win two games. We just gotta keep going now going back home."