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THE MOST MEMORABLE ASPECT OF CHICAGO'S SECOND-ROUND DISMISSAL of the Canucks? You could argue for the three convincing road wins in which the Hawks outscored their defensively gracious hosts by a combined 17-7. Or maybe for the second-annual humbling of Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, whose reputation as one of the game's top stoppers might not survive another playoff meeting with the Hawks' relentless offense.
But most likely this will be remembered as the series in which Dustin Byfuglien shed his utilityman reputation and emerged as the NHL's next-generation power forward.
Not that anyone saw that coming when the series opened in Chicago. Employed sparingly, Byfuglien was never a factor in a humbling 5-1 loss that, for the Hawks, was marked by missed opportunities. Brian Campbell got robbed by Luongo. Patrick Kane fumbled two chances, one on a breakaway. While Chicago fought off its jitters, the Canucks struck for five goals in a 22-minute span, chasing Antti Niemi after two periods. "I'm not blaming the goaltending," coach Joel Quenneville said later. "They were around the net and had second and third opportunities."
When Vancouver took a 2-0 first-period lead in Game 2, it looked as though the Hawks were in for more of the same. But Brent Seabrook halved the lead with a snapper from the slot just 2:38 later, and after that the team rediscovered its forecheck, applying pressure that the Canucks couldn't handle en route to a 4-2 win. "They competed, we didn't," said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault. "It was as simple as that."
That trend continued in Game 3 as the Hawks established position and won battles for pucks, scoring each of their first four goals on rebounds. Byfuglien, back at forward after spending Game 2 on the blue line, set the tone, all but planting his formidable haunches in Luongo's lap and daring Vancouver's defensemen to push him aside. They couldn't, and Byfuglien finished with a hat trick in Chicago's 5-2 win. Observed Canucks blueliner Kevin Bieksa, "It's hard to move 275 pounds of loose meat."
Byfuglien again imposed his will in Game 4, assisting on Seabrook's goal and drawing three penalties from Vancouver's frustrated defenders. The night's true heroics, however, belonged to Jonathan Toews, who scored three power-play goals and had two assists to tie Stan Mikita's Hawks scoring mark for a playoff game. The 7-4 win led a frustrated Vigneault to call Luongo "the second-best goalie on the ice."
Though Luongo and the Canucks rebounded with a 4-1 win in Game 5, Chicago was back in form in Game 6, routing Vancouver 5-1. Byfuglien had a goal and an assist, and he made his biggest impact with his body, nailing the Canucks' top defender, Alexander Edler, with a clean but devastating first-period hit that knocked Edler out of the game and took any remaining starch out of the Canucks. As Bieksa said, "We just didn't have an answer for him."