Commentary

Byfuglien's greatest hit

Dustin Byfuglien's second-period bulldozing of Chris Pronger was a series-defining play

Updated: June 7, 2010, 11:09 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

It was instant YouTube. It was also one of the defining moments of the Stanley Cup finals for both the Chicago Blackhawks and Dustin Byfuglien.

Byfuglien's planting of Chris Pronger into the corner boards in the Hawks' offensive end six minutes into the second period Sunday night, one of nine hits on the night for the big winger, was not a game-changer with his team enjoying a two-goal advantage.

[+] EnlargeDustin Byfuglien
Dave Sandford/NHLI/Getty ImagesAfter struggling in the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals, Dustin Byfuglien dominated in Game 5.

Byfuglien, who entered the game with no goals, one assist and a minus-3 rating in the series, changed the game by leading all players with four points as he tied his NHL single-game high with two goals and two assists in Chicago's 7-4 victory.

His first goal, at 15:45 of the second period, was a Byfuglien short-range special on assists from Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith. And although four goals followed -- two by each team -- it was considered the game winner, Byfuglien's league-leading fifth winning goal of the 2010 playoffs.

Nevertheless, it was Byfuglien's big hit on Pronger that was emblematic of the Hawks' newfound intensity Sunday night, an aggressive effort that gave worried fans renewed hope, as their team now sits one victory short of its first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

"A lot of people look at the goals, but we try to look at the little things, and Buff did all of them tonight," Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell said.

Pronger, whose head banged off the glass as he fell to the ice, was quick to bounce back up. But it was not without some unsteadiness as Byfuglien, who got the Flyers veteran in the Hawks' offensive zone again some 30 seconds later, enjoyed some payback after being pushed around plenty in Philadelphia.

"Getting down two games in their building, we had to come back with some fire and just get on them and just show them we weren't going to quit," Byfuglien said. "And right from the get-go, we just moved our feet and played physical."

Said Pronger as only he could, "I guess he's well-rested."

Pronger was an unheard-of minus-5 on the night, but Byfuglien said he did not feel any extra satisfaction from contributing to that while flattening him in the process.

"No, he's out there to battle, so am I," said Byfuglien, probably wise in his understatement given the team's return trip to Philly for Wednesday's Game 6. "I'm going to try to get the best of him and be strong. That's all I have to do."

Byfuglien's contribution, however, cannot be understated, as the Hawks are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he scores.

"I think Buff has been a big factor as we've gone along here in these playoffs," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Maybe everybody said he was quiet. I still thought he had a presence early in the first two games here at home. Maybe the last couple he didn't make as much noise."

Quenneville's lineup shake-up should have qualified him as one of the three stars of the game (Byfuglien was No. 1), as it forced Pronger to divide his defensive concentration, particularly where it concerned the Toews-Byfuglien-Patrick Kane line, which had combined for a minus-9 rating in the finals going into Sunday's game.

"I just wasn't getting bounces and the things that make me happy," Buff said of the previous four games.

But Byfuglien's Game 5 line of Dave Bolland (one goal, one assist) and Kris Versteeg (one goal, two assists) made everyone happy, as they all scored.

"We had to change things up," Byfuglien said. "We didn't really have time to sit and think about who we're playing with. It was kind of last-second. All year we've mixed the lines around, and everyone's really played with everyone, so it wasn't a real big thing. It was just going out there and playing as a team and moving our feet and doing the right things."

Although there's no telling what Quenneville will do when the series shifts back to Philadelphia, Bolland and Versteeg clearly were pleased with the new arrangement.

"Buff, when he plays his game and he's hitting and playing the game right, he's a great player, and you saw it tonight," Bolland said.

When told that Pronger was on the ice for every Hawks goal (in the penalty box for one), Bolland just smiled.

"Good," he said.

When asked the question about Pronger again, Bolland smiled again.

"Great," he said.

Versteeg was equally enthusiastic, if a little more chatty.

"Buff, he's huge," he said. "When he's moving his feet and he's playing hard, he's a tough guy to handle and a tough guy to play against. I think you saw tonight he got rewarded for a lot of good effort, and that's what we need from the big man in order to be successful going forward."

And in the end, that's what will be remembered about the best game for the Hawks in this Stanley Cup final.

"I don't want to take anything away from [Byfuglien's] goal," Keith said. "It was a big goal on the power play. But definitely when he's using his size and being physical, he's real effective and gives our team a lot of momentum and makes it hard on the other team's defense."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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